Mind & Body

Is There Really Such a Thing as Internet Addiction?

How much do you use the internet? We're willing to be that you're using it right now (unless you printed this article out to read around a campfire). But maybe it's time to really consider the hours you spend online. It might be adding up to a suite of unhealthy behaviors that psychologists have termed "Internet Addiction Disorder."

A Digital Disorder

So is there really such a thing as an internet addiction? Officially, no. That is to say, medical professionals have been debating since the mid-1990s about whether or not Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) belongs in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which is used by everybody in the psychiatric health profession. As yet, IAD has not found its way into the DSM. SMH.

However, that could change as soon as the next edition. The most recent version of the text, the DSM-5, actually does include an entry for something called "Internet Gaming Disorder." The book notes that for some people playing online games, "certain pathways in their brains are triggered in the same direct and intense way that a drug addict's brain is affected by a particular substance," but it also makes it clear that we don't know enough yet to formally classify the disorder. So is there such a thing as an internet addiction? The answer so far is a big fat "maybe."

But it's definitely under consideration, and there are some strong arguments on both sides as to whether it deserves its own entry or not. According to Dr. Jerald J. Block, there are three distinct types of internet addiction: excessive gaming, sexual preoccupation, and email/text messaging. All three of these, in his view, can share four crucial similarities with drug addictions: excessive use, withdrawal, tolerance, and negative repercussions. Basically, it starts with overuse, then moves on to feeling irritable away from the keyboard, then the sufferer starts needing more and better technology and access, and finally, leads to arguments, lying, and social isolation. Sounds pretty open and shut.

Other Disorders in Disguise

Not so fast, says Dr. Ronald Pies. Instead, almost all of those people who could be classified as internet addicts are usually suffering from at least one other mental disorder — and it could be that what we think is IAD is actually anxiety and depression catfishing all of us. One German study, for example, found that of 30 participants who demonstrated "pathological internet use," no fewer than 27 of those people also had another psychiatric disorder. A full half of those participants had been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, for example. In other words, the internet might just be the way that modern mental maladies play out.

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Feel like you or somebody you know might suffer from something like an internet addiction? Check out "Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked". The audiobook is free with a trial of Audible. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase through that link, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Reuben Westmaas November 26, 2017

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