Contributing co-author: Andrew Chen
The idea of the internet being addictive may draw a chuckle until you realize that compulsive video gaming has been responsible for some horrifying deaths across the world, including examples from China and South Korea of addicts playing for 50+ straight hours before going into extreme cardiac arrest.
With 1.5 billion Internet users around the world today, the Internet has become an integral part of our society. With the huge success of the Internet, researchers have become interested in the possibility of a new disorder, Computer addiction (or internet addiction disorder).
What is internet addiction?
Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) is a controversial term being used to describe problematic use of the Internet. IAD is not a recognized diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Many wonder if excessive Internet use really counts as an addiction. Excessive Internet use could just be a symptom of other underlying factors such as depression, anxiety, or occupational need. (1)
Those that believe excessive Internet use is a unique phenomenon have modified the criteria for diagnosing pathological gambling to diagnose IAD. For someone to have IAD, they must demonstrate five or more of the following:
1. Is preoccupied with the Internet (think about previous online activity or anticipate next online session).
2. Needs to use the Internet with increased amounts of time in order to achieve satisfaction.
3. Has made unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back, or stop Internet use.
4. Is restless, moody, depressed, or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop Internet use.
5. Has stayed online longer than originally intended.
6. Has jeopardized or risked the loss of a significant relationship, job, educational or career opportunity
because of the Internet.
7. Has lied to family members, therapist, or others to conceal the extent of involvement with the Internet.
8. Uses the Internet as a way of escaping from problems or of relieving a dysphoric mood (e. g., feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety, depression). (1)
Who gets computer addiction and to what?
Despite early beliefs that Internet addiction was most prevalent among introverted young males, new studies have shown that Internet addiction can affect people of any gender, age, and socioeconomic status (1).
People are most likely to develop unhealthy Internet habits using online social applications such as e-mail, instant messaging, and networking sites (e.g. Facebook, Myspace). Chat rooms and MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games) are especially addicting as they allow a user to instantly communicate with hundreds if not thousands of other users (2).
Online social interactions may help a person fulfill unmet real life social needs and thereby reinforce prolonged Internet use.
It should be noted that most studies of Internet use rely on self-report measures. This method undoubtedly leads to an underreporting of Internet pornography use. According to the AVN Media Network, people in the United States alone spend around three billion dollars on online porn. Aside from social applications, online porn certainly plays a significant role in Internet addiction.
So, does excessive Internet use truly characterize an addiction? That debate is not likely to end anytime soon. Either way, the Internet is here to stay and many individuals who have problems controlling their Internet use could benefit greatly from help, especially if their use involves a financial cost.
1. Beard, K.W., Wolf, E.M. (2001) Modification in the proposed diagnostic criteria for internet addiction, Cyberpsychology & Behavior, 4(3)
2. Young, K.S., (1996) Internet addiction: Emergence of a new clinical disorder, Cyberpsychology & Behavior, 1(3)