Internet Addiction

A recent editorial in the latest issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry entitled “Issues for DSM-V: Internet Addiction” posits that Internet Addiction should be treated as a Mental Disorder. I’m inclined to agree.

Internet addiction appears to be a common disorder that merits inclusion in DSM-V. Conceptually, the diagnosis is a compulsive-impulsive spectrum disorder that involves online and/or offline computer usage (1, 2) and consists of at least three subtypes: excessive gaming, sexual preoccupations, and e-mail/text messaging (3). All of the variants share the following four components: 1) excessive use, often associated with a loss of sense of time or a neglect of basic drives, 2) withdrawal, including feelings of anger, tension, and/or depression when the computer is inaccessible, 3) tolerance, including the need for better computer equipment, more software, or more hours of use, and 4) negative repercussions, including arguments, lying, poor achievement, social isolation, and fatigue (3, 4).

Given the right set of circumstances, anything can become addictive.

As someone who is “plugged in” at least 12-14 hours a day, I had to ask myself whether I am addicted to the internet… I am excessive in my use of the internet. I am online all day, and when I go home I tend to hop on my laptop or iPod touch to surf, check email and/or work. I experience withdrawal when I go without connectivity for extended amounts of time. I’ve brought a laptop with me on nearly every vacation I’ve gone on since 2004. As for tolerance, I do desire better equipment and better software. (I’m a geek. Who doesn’t want better hardware or software?) And I have experienced poor achievement due to lack of balance in my working vs. surfing mix.

Am I an internet addict? (An addict would say no. Don’t be in denial.) In almost every way, yes. But my “addiction” isn’t to where it’s destroying my life (yet). Finding and maintaining a good balance is key to keeping the demons at bay.

My addiction is my passion. I turned a hobby into a full-time job that I truly enjoy. Am I different than, say, someone who is addicted to playing World of Warcraft 18 hours a day, or someone who sends hundreds of text messages a day, or someone who is addicted to porn? I’d say yes, but in the end, we’re all still addicts in a connected world.

The DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) “is an American handbook for mental health professionals that lists different categories of mental disorders and the criteria for diagnosing them, according to the publishing organization the American Psychiatric Association. It is used worldwide by clinicians and researchers as well as insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies and policy makers.” (Source: Wikipedia) It is currently in its fifth incarnation – DSM-IV – and it’s sixth – DSM-V – is due in 2011.