Much has been written about the possibility of compulsive behavior in some young people taking dopamine agonists. Gambling and hypersexuality have gotten a lot of press because they are glitzy and attention-grabbing. A person in the grip of compulsive gambling can rapidly bring financial ruin to the family. Hypersexual behavior can lead to unrelenting demands of a partner, affairs, unprotected encounters and compulsive indulgence in pornography.
Compulsive use of a computer seems comparatively mundane but might be more common and less discussed than those behaviors that do grab headlines. To be sure, a computer can be the tool that allows a person to tap out bank accounts for online poker and is typically the vehicle for obtaining porn or anonymous sexual partners. But the behavior being described in this blog involves the use of the computer not as a vehicle but as an end in itself.
Compulsive computer use can be overlooked because it mimics a normal behavior. However, computer-as-a-tool can bleed over into computer-as-a-problem when a person whiles away endless hours looking for car parts, playing solitaire, being absorbed by social media or link-hopping Wikipedia topics while the family is asleep. We can start to talk about a problem when a person writes or tweaks a computer project endlessly, leading to bleary eyes at work the next morning. We can consider computer use problematic if PD chat forums, advocacy groups, or PD listservs eat into waking hours at the expense of meaningful time with friends and families.
Compulsive computer use can slip under the radar because a person experiencing it can appear productive. They may be logging into the work computer at 2 am to fix small problems, writing countless advocacy pieces, hammering away at a book manuscript, or sending out voluminous emails. There have always been people who are prone to working at the expense of other important aspects of their lives (think "workaholics"). The key to identifying a problem is when an increase in computer activity coincides with use of drugs targeting the dopamine receptors. If the behavior looks or feels different than it did before a medication was started, it should be presented to your doctor. Consider the following:
Do you spend long hours responding to e-mails, searching the web, or engaging in numerous activities that sometimes feel excessive or a waste of time when you look back on them?
Is your computer time coming at the expense of face to face interactions with others?
Have family members commented that you are spending a great deal of time on the computer and less time with them?
When you are not on the computer, do you find yourself thinking a great deal about it or feel discomfort that you are not able use your computer at that moment?
If you suddenly stop a computer activity or are drawn away from the computer by other duties, do you find yourself feeling uneasy, edgy, or even irritable?
Compulsive computer use may not be as widely discussed as other impulse control behaviors associated with dopamine agonists. However, it should not be allowed to slip under the radar. I have seen a number of folks change their obsessive relationship with their computers when their physician altered a medication regimen. The important thing is to bring it to your neurologist's attention so he or she can determine if there is a problem.