Internet Addiction Disorder
Internet addiction disorder has gained quite a bit of exposure in the news in recent years. It has also generated a substantial amount of controversy – some psychologists and other professionals believe that this is a legitimate disorder with real and lasting effects, while others dismiss the idea as overblown hype. Is Internet addiction disorder real, and does it pose a legitimate threat to the well-being of internet users and their families?
Dr. Jerald J. Block, a psychiatrist based in Oregon, recently published an editorial in the American Journal of Psychiatry, advocating the inclusion of Internet addiction disorder in the DSM-V. In this editorial, Dr. Block states that this Internet addiction disorder compromises the well-being of Internet users, and prevents them from remaining productive members of society.
Defining Internet Addiction Disorder
According to the American Psychiatric Association, a person must exhibit at least three symptoms to be diagnosed with Internet addiction disorder. These symptoms include an increased tolerance for Internet use; engaging in Internet activity to avoid symptoms of withdrawal; use of the Internet more frequently, or for longer periods of time than intended; devoting a substantial amount of time to Internet activities; and the loss or reduction of work, educational, or relationship activities because of prolonged use.
Because no intoxicant is involved, Internet addition disorder has been compared to gambling addiction in the psychological community. In a 1996 study conducted by Kimberly S. Young, Psy.D., 500 frequent internet users were evaluated using the criteria used by the American Psychological Association to classify pathological gambling behavior. This study concluded that nearly 80 percent of those involved in the study were “dependent Internet users.”
The Case for Internet Addiction Disorder
Some professionals who advocate the legitimacy of Internet addiction disorder cite the growing availability of access as one of the primary causes. Restaurants, coffee shops, airports, and hotels are increasingly offering free or low-cost Internet access to patrons. Given the portability of laptop computers, the availability of the Internet has extended from the home or office to a variety of other locations. Today, many cell phones and other portable devices are equipped with Web capabilities, making online activities available in virtually any situation.
There are numerous cases that suggest that Internet addiction disorder has very real implications. A New York Times story told of a husband in the Pacific Northwest who divorced his wife because of her excessive Web usage. The woman’s frequent online activities caused her to forget to purchase groceries for the children, purchase heating oil for the home, and keep her children’s medical appointments. Another story tells of a teen in Texas who was brought to a rehabilitation center for his Internet addiction. He experienced withdrawal symptoms, including convulsions, anger, and violent behavior.
These accounts, among many others, would seem to legitimize Internet addiction disorder in light of the criteria defined by the American Psychological Association.
The Case Against Internet Addiction Disorder
Although the effects of Internet addiction have been made widely known, many professionals believe that not enough research has been conducted to properly evaluate and understand the disorder. There is a marked lack of large scale clinical tests and peer-reviewed professional journal articles showing the validity of this disorder.
Internet addiction disorder’s critics also cite the high probability of co-existing conditions in heavy users. These professionals believe that Internet use is a coping mechanism for people with other psychological disorders, such as ADHD or clinical depression. Following this logic, Internet addiction disorder is no more a valid disorder than excessive television watching or spending too much time on the telephone.
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