Internet addiction may be the next epidemic of diagnosed addictions. Researchers and clinicians are co-diagnosing clients in drug and alcohol treatment centers with Internet addiction. However, when it comes to treatment, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5, (DSM 5) provides the only restraint.
The DSM 5 has chosen to relegate Internet addiction to an obscure appendix rather than legitimizing it as an official psychiatric diagnosis. But Internet addiction seems to be picking up momentum even without DSM 5 endorsement.
Is Everyone “Partially” Addicted to the Internet?
Most of us know the feeling of being hooked on our electronic devices, and that some people are harmed by what develops into an unhealthy attachment to them. The question is how best do treatment facilities understand, define, and deal with this? What does the term “addiction” truly mean, and when is it a useful way of describing our passions and needs? We don’t consider ourselves addicted to our cars, TVs, refrigerators, or air conditioners. Is attachment to the Internet different? If so, how and what do we do about it?
The Definition of Internet Addiction
The definition of Internet addiction is closely related to the definition of drug addiction, so this is the best place to start if we are to gain understanding and avoid confusion. Three features define drug addiction:
Tolerance: Needing more of the substance to get the same desired result.
Withdrawal: Feeling irritable when you try to stop.
Compulsiveness: Continuing the substance even if the pleasure is largely gone and the cost is extremely high (For example: health, work, friendships, financial, and or legal consequences).
Drug addiction means being enslaved and not being able to stop using, despite the lousy cost/benefit ratio of no longer getting much pleasure from the drug while suffering much harm from it. This brings us to “Internet addiction.” Granted, lots of us are furiously checking emails in restaurants and in the middle of the night, feel lost when temporarily separated from our electronic friends, and spend every spare minute googling, texting, or playing games. But does this really qualify us as addicts? No, not usually, not unless our attachment is compulsive and without reward or usefulness; interferes with participation and success in real life; and causes significant distress or impairment.
For most people, the tie to the Internet, however powerful and consuming, brings much more pleasure or productivity than pain and impairment. This is more love affair and/or tool using than enslavement and is not best considered the stuff of mental disorder. It would be silly to define as psychiatric illness behavior that has now become so much a necessary part of everyone’s daily life and work. However, the internet is still fairly new in conjunction so is our use of it. Whether or not Internet addiction is recognized as a mental disorder in the future is in the hands of the DSM.