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...