Internet Use Disorder: Do We Need An Intervention?

BlogHer Original Post

"Inter-nuts!" screams the New York Post. "Web addiction a new psych illness." The way they put it, we're all in dire need of an intervention. But before you check yourself in for treatment of your newly-minted "Internet Use Disorder," consider the facts. The American Psychiatric Association is only adding it to the new edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a condition recommended for further evaluation.

In short, they're looking at it as a potential issue that may involve characteristics of obsessive-compulsive disorder, but as of yet, is not an out-and-out mental illness. This is a careful step and one that echoes concerns expressed a decade ago regarding the application of the term "addiction" when it comes to the internet.


Photo by David Goehring. (Flickr)

"It seems misleading to characterize behaviors as 'addictions' on the basis that people say they do too much of them," Sara Kiesler, a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University and co-author of a study on Internet usage, published in the September 1998 American Psychologist told Monitor In Psychology. "No research has yet established that there is a disorder of Internet addiction that is separable from problems such as loneliness or problem gambling, or that a passion for using the Internet is long-lasting."

That said, some members of the community are pushing for its inclusion. In an editorial for the American Journal of Psychiatry, Jerald J. Block argues in favor of including “internet addiction” in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V):

Some of the most interesting research on Internet addiction has been published in South Korea. After a series of 10 cardiopulmonary-related deaths in Internet cafés and a game-related murder, South Korea considers Internet addiction one of its most serious public health issues. Using data from 2006, the South Korean government estimates that approximately 210,000 South Korean children (2.1%; ages 6–19) are afflicted and require treatment. About 80% of those needing treatment may need psychotropic medications, and perhaps 20% to 24% require hospitalization.

Since the average South Korean high school student spends about 23 hours each week gaming, another 1.2 million are believed to be at risk for addiction and to require basic counseling. In particular, therapists worry about the increasing number of individuals dropping out from school or work to spend time on computers. As of June 2007, South Korea has trained 1,043 counselors in the treatment of Internet addiction and enlisted over 190 hospitals and treatment centers. Preventive measures are now being introduced into schools.

China is also greatly concerned about the disorder. At a recent conference, Tao Ran, Ph.D., Director of Addiction Medicine at Beijing Military Region Central Hospital, reported 13.7% of Chinese adolescent Internet users meet Internet addiction diagnostic criteria—about 10 million teenagers. As a result, in 2007 China began restricting computer game use; current laws now discourage more than 3 hours of daily game use.

A little over year after this article was published, the media went into a tizzy over restart, the first treatment center in the United States (13 miles away from Microsoft’s headquarters in Washington, no less) to offer treatment for technology addiction. According to their site, their proposed criteria for “Internet Addiction Disorder” includes the following:

  • Preoccupation: Individual thinks about previous online activity or anticipates the next online session.
  • Withdrawal: Individual experiences discontent, anxiety, irritability, and boredom if denied internet access.

In conjunction with at least one of the following:

  • Tolerance: Individual needs more internet use to achieve same level of satisfaction.
  • Persistent desire: The need to always be online and failure in controlling or cutting back on usage.
  • Continued excessive use: Inability to stop despite any issues caused or worsened by internet use.
  • Loss of interest: Individual is no longer interested in previous hobbies or forms of entertainment as a result of internet use.
  • Escapism: Individual uses the internet to relieve negative feelings (such as helplessness, anxiety, etc.).

What do you think? Is our internet usage a sign of compulsion, or, like the car, a technology we have harnessed and now rely on to facilitate life? Are we in trouble, or is Salon's Vaughan Bell right -- have we simply become addicted to being addicted to something?

AV Flox is the section editor of Love & Sex and Health on BlogHer. You can connect with her on Twitter @avflox, Google Plus +AV Flox, or e-mail her directly at av.flox AT BlogHer.com

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