[Editors Note: Addiction Inbox has not covered the so-called behavioral or non-traditional addictions--Internet addiction, video game addiction, compulsive shopping and compulsive gambling--because I am not yet convinced that such behaviors show the same chemical and often inheritable propensities associated with alcoholism and other drug addictions. Nonetheless, I am pleased to offer an alternative view, and to welcome guest blogger Elizabeth Dillon, who contributes a thought-provoking post on internet addiction.] --Dirk Hanson
By Elizabeth Dillon
It is impossible to deny the incredible significance of the internet and the effects its development has had on the world. Today the internet touches nearly every aspect of our daily lives; we shop online, we keep in touch through email, banking and credit can be taken care of through one click of a mouse, news from all over the world blinks up at us from the screen every time we log on, and communities of people from all over the planet are connected. Despite its obvious countless advantages, there is a rising concern regarding the overuse of the internet on a personal level. There are more and more people each day who feel a compulsive need to be connected to the internet, a need that some scientists and psychiatrists have begun to consider an addiction . This issue drew major media attention in March of this year when Dr. Jerald Block published an editorial in the American Journal of Psychiatry arguing that “Internet Addiction” should be included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), a handbook published by the American Psychiatric Association of recognized psychological conditions. Block raised the question of whether this new phenomenon should be classified as a disease or written off as a bad habit.
The traditional view of addiction generally applies to substances like drugs or alcohol and is seen as a result of a combination of genetic and social influences. However, in recent years the definition of addiction has expanded to include different behaviors like gambling and over-eating. The question that remains to be seen is if there are enough similarities between traditional addiction and this so called internet addiction to warrant its acceptance as a disease by the mental health community. For now it is officially titled Internet Addictive Disorder (IAD) or Internet Overuse Syndrome (IOS) and not recognized by the American Psychiatric Association.
Block argues that Internet addiction is characterized by the same four factors as traditional addiction: excessive use, withdrawal, tolerance, and negative repercussions. He contends that users are on the internet for so much time that they are unaware of how many hours have gone by, and neglect other basic human desires, often forgetting to eat or use the bathroom. Users feel angry, depressed, and tense when access to the internet is limited and frequently need better tools and more time of use to experience the original satisfaction. Internet addicts also face such harmful consequences as social isolation and poor achievement.
The statistics regarding the prevalence of internet addiction in the U.S. vary widely. A random telephone survey estimated 0.3-0.7% of Americans are afflicted, while Maressa Hecht Orzack of McLean Hospital in Massachusetts, estimates that nearly 10% of Americans have experienced some sort of internet dependency . Higher rates of addiction are seen mostly in Asian nations like South Korea and China where the popularity of internet cafes is high and the condition is easier to track because of its public nature. In fact, data from 2006 stated that approximately 210,000 South Korean children (2.1%) were afflicted with internet addiction with about 80% requiring treatment that included the use of psychotropic medication. Another interesting aspect of IAD is that most often individuals who suffer from it also are battling another mental illness. In particular, mood, anxiety, impulse control and substance abuse disorders are common in conjunction with internet overuse.
Research has traced other behavioral addictions like gambling and shopping to biological foundations; however the current research on internet addiction merely distinguishes it as a growing issue and draws parallels to other types of addictions. More studies need to be performed on this new phenomenon in order to properly characterize it as an addiction or as simply a destructive behavior.
While the internet may not officially be an addiction, there are still many individuals out there who would benefit from treatment. There are currently no proven forms of effective treatment and no available psychotropic medications for IAD. However, like with other addictive habits, cognitive behavioral therapy may be effective. Cognitive therapy is essentially a method that identifies and helps a person to correct specific errors in what he or she is thinking that produces negative or painful feelings. According to Dr. Allison Conner of Cognitive Therapy Associates, an internet addiction could be treated similarly to other addictions. She asserts that, “so many changes need to occur in the person's lifestyle (mental, emotional, physical, social), and support is crucial. A guide or coach is often essential to help ensure success, but most important is the willingness of the addicted person to get real with themselves and stay committed to the goal of recovery.”
While we may not see Internet Addiction in the DSM-V handbook anytime soon, the issue is controversial and becoming ever more widespread. Ironically enough, you can even look up online resources if you feel you need help.
Elizabeth Dillon is the Director of Communications Management for Cognitive Therapy Associates.
Block, Jerald J. (2008). Issues for DSM-V: Internet Addiction. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 165, 306-307.
Goldsborough, Reid, (2008). Internet Addiction Afflicting a Growing Number of Web Surfers. Community College Week, Vol. 20 Issue 11, 0, 22-22.
Shaw, Martha Black, Donald W. (2008). Internet Addiction. CNS Drugs, Vol. 22, Issue 5, 13, 353-365.
Dr. Allison Conner can be contacted through her website: