Internet Addiction: Is It Really a Disorder? Or Is More Research Needed?

One of the worst signs of a deeply disturbing trend across the world, internet addiction, in which some web users show more interest in the screen than in real life, was this news item from March 2010 (BBC NEWS): “A South Korean couple who were addicted to the internet let their three-month-old baby starve to death while raising a virtual daughter online, police said.”

Newsweek‘s July 16th issue shared this example and more in their eye-catching cover article called “iCrazy: Panic.Depression.Psychosis. How Connection Addiction Is Rewiring Our Brains.” Which got me to thinking. But not too much. I’m too busy on the internet. And I think my brain is a bit off lately.

But here are some more interesting tidbits about this global issue, from the Newsweek article and elsewhere…

TERMINOLOGY

The possibility in recent years that this problem exists as a bona fide diagnostic category has led to many different ways to name it other than IAD (Internet Addiction Disorder)—including Internet OverusePathological Computer UseProblematic Computer Use, Virtual Addiction, and iDisorder. Those who suffer with any or all of the above could be called Cyber Junkies or Netaholics, among other things. According to psychiatrist Elias Aboujaoude, many users have an “e-personality” that’s different from their offline identity. The internet itself has been dubbed Electronic Cocaine by psychiatrist and neuroscientist Peter Whybrow.

BOOKS AND AUTHORS

According to Amazon sales, the two most popular books on recovering from IAD currently available are psychology professor Larry Rosen‘s iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession With Technology and Overcoming Its Hold On Us (2012) and Mark Freeman‘s and Andrew von Rosenbach‘s Web Rehab: How to Give Up Your Internet Addiction Without Giving Up the Internet (2011).

The New York Times on Rosen and his book: “It is unavoidable that many of us will fall prey to an iDisorder, he says, but ‘it is not fatal and we are not doomed to spend time in a mental institution or a rehab center.’ By using a few simple strategies, he says, ‘we can safely emerge from our TechnoCocoons and rejoin the world of the healthy.'”

It’s been reported that the new DSM-5 that comes out next year will list IAD as an area needing further study. Here’s author Mark Freeman, who explains his view that IA is indeed problematic but neither an official Disorder nor particularly DSM-5-worthy. (UPDATE: this video is no longer available.)

DIAGNOSIS AND TREATMENT

The Internet Addiction Test was developed by psychologist Dr. Kimberly Young, Director of the Center for Internet Addiction Recovery. Click on the link to take a look.

Various treatment options exist, including cognitive behavioral therapy and regular talk therapy. In addition, medication and/or physical exercise might be helpful.

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