Internet Addiction Might Actually Get Recognized By The Official Book Of Mental Disorders?

from the ugh dept

Over the last decade or so, there’s been something of an… well… addiction to calling any sort of overuse of a product an addiction. So we’ve seen email addiction, web addiction, online porn addiction, video game addiction, internet addiction, and mobile phones or other gadget addictions among other things. More often than not, it seems that the calls to label these things as an addiction isn’t fueled by any actual addiction, but by psychologists or psychiatrists looking to build a practice treating people who play too much World of Warcraft, rather than drug addicts. When you dig deeper, nearly all of these “technological addictions” don’t really appear to be addictions to the technology, but rather a symptom of some other issue (such as depression) that manifests itself by focusing an inordinate amount of time on some technology. Focusing too much on the symptom, by falsely labeling it an addiction, could lead to poor treatment, as the focus is on treating the symptom, rather than the actual problem.

Yet, some psychiatrists have been pushing hard to have internet addiction officially classified in the psychiatrist’s bible, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). We had thought that these silly ideas had been shot down, but apparently not. The American Psychiatric Association recently proposed its new changes for DSM-5, the first update since 1994. And, unfortunately, internet addiction is being considered — though almost no one thinks it will make it in (gambling addiction, on the other hand…). What’s troubling is that the door is being opened to classifying such behavioral issues as addictions.

Thankfully, at least some in the profession are quite worried about this. An opinion piece at Psychology Today worries about this decision to append the addiction label, noting that even though it offers an opportunity for him to make more money, it may make it harder to actually help people:

As someone who makes his living as a psychotherapist I know I should shout, “Bravo DSM-5 addiction workgroup!” After all, if “behavioral addictions” makes it through field trials into the eventual manual it will open a a whole new market. Maybe I could even franchise “Internet addiction” clinics to funnel tons of insurance money into my pocket–after all, once “Internet addiction” is in the DSM insurance companies will pay to “treat” and I am sure there are lots of panicked well-insured parents out there who don’t like that junior spends so much time playing World of Warcraft.

But I can’t bring myself to come close to anything like that. Making “Internet addiction” an official diagnostic category is just wrong on so many levels, including, I believe, making it more difficult to get the right kind of help to those who have actually become painfully stuck online. Many people are turning from life lived to life online and they need help, but real help for real problems, not newly-minted addictions.

By sanctioning behavioral addictions the new DSM opens the diagnostic door to the full menu of confessional daytime TV problems: gambling, shopping, eating, playing World of Warcraft, visiting porn sites, chatting online, having sex with dozens of women with teased blonde hair (hello Tiger), getting too many tattoos, hoarding newspapers (addicted to print!), or whatever else comes along. Who knows, should the political tide turn Republican Senators might successfully plead they were not ruining the country, they were just suffering from “Anti-American Filibuster Addiction Disorder.”

Medically sanctioning the category of “behavioral addictions” also changes how we will think about freedom and responsibility. Making bad choices, developing destructive habits, and attempting solutions to problems in living that then become serious problems themselves will all become less important as the locus of responsibility shifts from the person doing something to the something being done.

Let’s hope common sense like the above prevail…

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Comments on “Internet Addiction Might Actually Get Recognized By The Official Book Of Mental Disorders?”

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Sychodelix (profile) says:

It has nothing to do with whatever is “causing” the alleged “addiction”. If it wasn’t gaming or chatting, it would be something else that they are obsessed with. Yes, obsession, not addiction to anything. It’s not the thing causing the problem. The person had the problem in the first place and the internet is just one of the targets of that obsession. It’s just funny that the quacks that want this in the book haven’t noticed that most of the people had some other “addiction” (obsession to something else) before the “internet addiction” was “diagnosed”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Exactly. It isn’t so much as an addiction, but actually understanding what holds peoples attention.

If someone has 15 hours to be awake every day, and 8 hours circle around work, as well as a few hours are used daily online, they may jump to the conclusion that there’s an addiction of sorts because one thing holds most of their attention.

But what the old farts don’t understand, is that they can accomplish similar tasks, but opt to use older generation technology such as the telephone and driving around town all day looking for a perfect colored widget. Older generation tools are incredibly inefficient, but because it makes use of several tools (Car, telephone, reading snail mail, using a check book, and paper. Oh all the paper!) But, their acts are obviously not an addiction, but classifies as “living” because they use multiple tools.

Anonymous Coward says:

"Psychiatrists. Asylum trusted since 1904"

This is just a money grab, pure and simple. The very study of Psychiatry has always been on shaky ground, similar to voodoo, cultism, and black magic. And like most of these types of people, they are just trying to ensure they have revenue to come.

Think of it this way: You can actually engage in conversations online instead of with a Psychiatrist, which in turn cuts off their revenue stream. That’s a big problem. So why not make the very problem a disorder?

Sneaky, sneaky!

EdB (profile) says:

Someone in the field disagreeing with others in the field doesn’t automatically make either side right or wrong.

Addiction is a horrible thing. When I went through rehab (alcohol addiction, 2 years ago, one year sober now) we learned all sorts of things about the problem – including that it is almost impossible to say what an addiction is. But basically when your brain responds inappropriately to something then your brain has a problem. For me it was booze. For others heroin or cocaine. For 2 young ladies, it was food. Yeah: food.

The problem, if you have a problem, isn’t based on voluume or time of day or even if someone else thinks you’re wrong to think you have an addiction. The problem is when the habit controls you instead of the right way of being. Booze owned me. Plain and simple, no argument. I own the problem now, but dammit booze still owns me. I hope and pray I never drink again. And for those who eschew real life in favor of the internet, I hope and pray they can get the help they need.

You “normal” people will never get it either. You’ll think your stupid little thoughts based on how your brains work, ignoring any and all evidence that points to how wrong you are. No worries. Those of us who lived it know how it feels to be owned by something ‘normal people’ can handle. And we don’t begrudge you your healthy brains! But please: don’t piss on someone else just because you don’t or won’t understand.

Anonymous Coward says:

I’ve been hooked on the net since my 9600 baud modem. Computers and the internet are a huge part of my daily life. Use them at work, use it at home. I’m connected almost every waking minute thanks to my fancy tricked out phone with dataplan…

When I go on a 7 day cruise in the Caribbean my phone turns off my laptop stays home and I don’t go to any computer cafes or wifi hotspots. I don’t even turn the TV on in the room. For a straight week no shakes, no nothing in fact I enjoy life quite a god damn bit.

I’d like to hear someone that smokes as much as I tweet drop it for 7 days straight say that about their life.

Monarch (profile) says:

Sorry, can’t take someone seriously who writes a line like this:
“Who knows, should the political tide turn Republican Senators might successfully plead they were not ruining the country, they were just suffering from “Anti-American Filibuster Addiction Disorder.” “

Not that I like Republicans or Democrats, but how can a political group be ruining the country for forcing the government from passing a law which may help, but may or may not financially ruin the country?

As soon as I read that one line, all credibility is out the door.

Ryan says:

Re: Re:

Oh, I don’t know. It’s amazing how many government intiatives dictators like Hitler and Stalin were able to get through without effective opposition.

“No, I won’t support systematically eliminating the Jewish people.”

“Oh, so you have a better idea?”

“…not killing Jews?”

“Nonsense, the country is in a terrible state. Any plan is better than none at all.”

“Well, we could -“

“Shut up. Either you support killing Jews, or you’re just holding up progress for political gain. Whatever, I’ll do it without you.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Proposal: The Politically-Monetary Driven Complex

How about we petition the sham scientists for a disorder that treats politicians needs and desires to value bankers and healthcare industry over the needs of the common man?

We know it wouldn’t ever happen because those that make the rules are the ruling class. Shame on you, American Psychiatric Association.

Anonymous Coward says:

Proposal: The Politically-Monetary Driven Complex

How about we petition the sham doctors for a disorder that treats politicians needs and desires to value bankers and healthcare industry over the needs of the common man?

We know it wouldn’t ever happen because those that make the rules are the ruling class. Shame on you, American Psychiatric Association.

Robin Smith (profile) says:

So many people still stuck in a twentieth century mindset. Outside of some real obsessive behavior (games, porn, gambling; already covered by ‘obsessive/compulsive behavior’), this is how we stay connected to our digital world. We communicate with family, friends and people around the world, we conduct business, we participate in news and information sites, we are invited to join scientific research projects and the list goes on and on. ‘Internet Addiction’ is utter BS.

Before I go online every day, I run four to six miles. I’ve been a runner for over forty years. I know I have a problem but I just can’t stop running.

Rob.Etler (profile) says:

So, you bash thw WSJ writers in the piece following this one for presenting straw man arguments, then use another straw man argument to bash the psychiatry field?

Take a lesson out of your own book, Mike: If you plan on attacking someone, you have to do a better job than lumping all of them as “psychologists or psychiatrists looking to build a practice treating people who play too much World of Warcraft.”

Ryan says:

Re: Re:

Farcically questioning motives is not the same thing as creating a straw man argument; motive is not even a formal argument. Do you dispute that psychiatrists have a profit motive, that treating an “internet addiction” would lead to increased business treating such clients as those whom “play too much World of Warcraft”, or that they would profit significantly from this increase? I think the quote speaks for itself.

Whether such motive is the source of this movement to diagnose internet addiction, or whether there separately exist viable reasons for doing so, is another matter. I don’t see any mention of the APA’s official argument for doing so(which precludes the existence of a straw man), just a professional argument against doing so.

Anonymous Coward says:

Internet Addiction Might Actually Get Recognized By The Official Book Of Mental Disorders.

I don’t think there’s any real-world evidence to backup such a strange claim. Even if we could classify internet addiction as, societally speaking, a bad thing?

For example, a recent Time article noted that overall crime is down. Perhaps the problem is that with less crime, there’s less professional intervention. But if someone well funded could invent a problem (which is actually acting as a cure) to create a resurgence of professional intervention to fill the coffers, prescribe new drugs, and overall make doctors the hero again, I imagine some people would be happy.

Personally, I suffer from daily, and sometimes hourly face-palming. The stimuli that causes these “Face-Palmings” are quite obvious. Efforts, such as this, proposed by a supposed professional organization do wonders to ensure daily face-palming occurs.

So synapses that induce “Face-Palming” is my problem, which is weird because the threat is already externalized. Funny stuff.

Michial Thompson (user link) says:

Spade a Spade

I agree with you mikee that “internet addictions” are not real addictions, but symptoms of others. I’d venture to classify them more in the social disorders of obsessive Compulsive disorder categories rather than depression though.

I know a lot of people that could be classified as addicted to the internet, and almost all of them fall into those two categories rather than depression, though they tend all to be linked in a vicious circle.

One thing that the Internet is REALLY doing is changing the way society interacts. While globalizing our interaction, it is also taking away the personal interactions as well.

A perfect example is myself, I have a lot of people I interact with via the internet from around the world, but my local group of associates has diminished steadily since graduation…

Anonymous Coward says:

Reading the comments makes me feel that people aren’t reacting from skepticism, but perhaps more from denial. Ask anyone in tech and they know a friend or co-worker who got into something like Warcraft and couldn’t stop and dropped out of college, so it’s hard to argue that the addictive behavior does manifest itself. Now, do a bit of research on addiction, and you find that, sure, all addiction is some form of OCD or depression or some other problem. But, for whatever reason, the out-of-control feedback loop that defines addiction gets triggered by different things for different people, they’re not readily interchangeable. And the treatments for these aren’t as simple as magically saying to the patient “you just have OCD” and the patient saying “my god, it’s true, I’m cured”. Kicking alcoholism requires changing behavior in many ways. If you’re manifesting your addictive personality by playing WoW all day, you’re going to need a different approach, and the fact that you have to sit in front of the computer all day for work related purposes makes it all the harder, it’s not just like avoiding going into a bar to control your drinking.

Bradley Stewart (profile) says:

Perhaps Not An Addiction

but a cure for what ails you. I am no longer working and I really enjoy getting up every day and while I am watching the news on television I really enjoy reading the news online, playing a few games and learning about a few things about a few things that I am really interested in as well as stumbling across other things that I have really never thought about and enjoy learning about.

redwall_hp (profile) says:

1. The internet is a communications and informational medium. So can I be addicted to talking or reading newspapers, then?

2. I use the internet daily, and for extended periods of time, but I don’t have some sort of “addiction.” I can take a week off and not use the internet at all if I had cause to. I would have to make preparations first, so my websites would have fresh content stocked before my absence, but I could do it without any mental or physical effects. I’d like to see a real addict do that.

This is bullsh*t, and entirely motivated by profit.

Gene Cavanaugh (profile) says:


Great article, and smart comments. Congratulations.

Really, though, I am addicted to my work (IP for the small entity). It doesn’t pay much (small entities don’t have much money), but I do it because I feel like it’s a public service (and I do make a little money).

If someone could cure me of this addiction (together with generous subsidies to make up for the lost income) I would be interested (wait – I like my clients, so never mind).

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