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Internet addiction is an addiction associated with excessive and pathological level of internet usage. It has also referreed to as internet addiction disorder (IAD) or internet addiction syndrome (IAS).

Internet addiction disorder

Internet addiction disorder is a theorized disorder originally made as a satirical hoax[1] by Ivan Goldberg, M.D., in 1995. He took pathological gambling as diagnosed by the DSM-IV as his model for the spoofed description.

Although IAD was meant to be a hoax, it is promoted as a real condition by some supporters. Supporters often divide IAD into subtypes by activity, such as pornography,[2] overwhelming and immoderate gaming,[3] inappropriate involvement in online social networking sites or blogging[4], and Internet shopping addiction.[5]

Activities which, if done in person, would normally be considered troublesome, such as compulsive gambling or shopping, are called net compulsions.[6] Others, such as reading or playing computer games, are troubling only to the extent that these activities interfere with normal life.


In many cases, though not all, the problem corrects itself. "It was Professor Kiesler who called Internet addiction a fad illness. In her view, she said, television addiction is worse. She added that she was completing a study of heavy Internet users, which showed the majority had sharply reduced their time on the computer over the course of a year, indicating that even problematic use was self-corrective."[7] Despite opposition from many quarters, researcher Kimberly Young, Psy. D. is lobbying for the inclusion of IAD into the DSM-V, the next edition of the DSM. Some proponents believe that its inclusion would open the doors for private insurance companies to pay for Internet addiction counseling. However, many others argue that IAD is neither a true addiction nor a specific disorder and should not be classified as a mental disorder in DSM-V. Furthermore, there is no evidence that people needing treatment are being denied it; instead, their situations are coded under other labels, such as ADD or depression, according to the underlying situation.

In June 2007, the American Medical Association declined to recommend to the American Psychiatric Association that they include IAD as a formal diagnosis in the 2012 edition of the DSM.[8] Instead, their toned-down response recommended further research of "video game overuse."[9] Members of the American Society of Addiction Medicine opposed calling Internet overuse and video games a true addiction.[10] Among the necessary research is a way to define "overuse" and a way to differentiate an "internet addiction" from obsession, self-medication for depression or other disorders, and compulsion.


According to Maressa Hecht Orzack, director of the Computer Addiction Study Center at Harvard University's McLean Hospital, between five and ten percent of Web surfers suffer some form of Web dependency.[11]

Another supporter, David Greenfield, Ph.D. of the Center for Internet Behavior conducted a study with ABC in 1999 and is author of Virtual Addiction. He believes that some services available over the Internet have unique psychological properties which induce dissociation, time distortion, and instant gratifaction, with about 6% of individuals experiencing some significant impact on their lives. However, he says it may not best be seen as an addiction but rather as a compulsion. Greenfield claims that sex, gaming, gambling, and shopping online can produce a mood-altering effect.

According to the Center for Internet Addiction, "Internet addicts suffer from emotional problems such as depression and anxiety-related disorders and often use the fantasy world of the Internet to psychologically escape unpleasant feelings or stressful situations."[12] Over 60% of people seeking treatment for IAD claim involvement with sexual activities online which they consider inappropriate, such as excessive attention to pornography or involvement in explicit sexual conversations online.[13] More than half are also addicted to alcohol, drugs, tobacco, or sex.[14]

"Several counselors and other experts said time spent on the computer was not important in diagnosing an addiction to the Internet. The question, they say, is whether Internet use is causing serious problems, including the loss of a job, marital difficulties, depression, isolation and anxiety, and still the user cannot stop. "The line is drawn with Internet addiction," said Mr. Zehr of Proctor Hospital, "when I'm no longer controlling my Internet use. It's controlling me." Dr. Cash and other therapists say they are seeing a growing number of teenagers and young adults as patients, who grew up spending hours on the computer, playing games and sending instant messages. These patients appear to have significant developmental problems, including attention deficit disorder and a lack of social skills."[15]


IAD suffers first from its misleading title. Psychiatrist Dr. Goldberg acknowledges that Internet Addiction Disorder is not a true addiction and may in fact be no more than a symptom of other, existing disorders.[16] An overbroad description of addiction leaves open the possibility of every compensatory behavior being declared an addiction. For example, a person who has lengthy telephone conversations with a friend to avoid an unpleasant situation could be declared "addicted to the telephone" with equal validity as a person who chats on the Internet with the same basic goal at bottom.

Many others, including Carol Potera and Jonathan Bishop, agree that Internet Addiction is inappropriately named. To the extent that the Internet is a social medium instead of an object, people cannot be addicted to it. The analogy is made to an environment: a person can not be truly addicted to living in a favorite town (no matter how distressing a change of home might be), and a goldfish can not be addicted to living in a pond.

Secondly, it is widely recognized, even by its supporters, that most if not all "Internet addicts" already fall under existing, legitimate diagnostic labels.[17] For many patients, overuse or inappropriate use of the Internet is merely a manifestation of their depression, anxiety, impulse control disorders, or pathological gambling.[18] In this criticism, IAD is compared to food addiction, in which patients overeat as a form of self-medication for depression, anxiety, etc., without actually being truly addicted to eating.

It is possible that a person could have a pathological relationship with a specific aspects of the Internet, such as bidding on online auctions, viewing pornography, online gaming, or online gambling (which is included under the existing Pathological Gambling), but that does not make the Internet medium itself be addictive. Here are common problems which are improperly lumped together under the IAD label:[19]

  • A pathological gambler is a pathological gambler regardless of whether the gambling is done on a computer or face-to-face.
  • A person with poor impulse control can lose sleep over a suspenseful novel or favorite television show just as easily as he or she can lose sleep over an exciting computer game or the temptation to click on another web link.
  • A person with a sexual obsession is still a person with a sexual obsession, whether the pornography is viewed on a screen or on paper.
  • A person who shops obsessively (including during a manic phase) has an obsessive shopping problem whether the purchases are made in person, by mail, by phone, or online.
  • A problem day trader, who has a form of pathological gambling, is still a problem day trader regardless of whether the stock trading is done by computer, over the phone, or face-to-face.

Also, there are significant and critical differences between common Internet activities (e-mail, chatting, web surfing) and pathological gambling, which the IAD notion heavily parallels. The Internet is largely a pro-social, interactive, and information-driven medium, while gambling is seen as a single, anti-social behavior that has very little social redeeming value. So-called Internet addicts do not suffer from the same damage to health and relationships that are common to established addictions.[20]

See also



  • Bishop, J. (2005). "Does Internet Addiction Exist?" available online
  • Caruso, D. (1998). Critics Pick Apart Study on Internet and Depression. available online.
  • Hansen, S. (2002). "Excessive Internet usage or 'Internet Addiction'? The implications of diagnostic categories for student users." Journal of Computer Assisted Learning 18(2) pp.232-236.
  • Potera, C. (1998). "Trapped in the Web?" Psychology Today, Mar/Apr 98, 31(2) pp.66-70.
  • Surratt, Carla G (1999). Netaholics? : the creation of a pathology Commack, NY : Nova Science Publishers.
  • Young, Kimberly S. (2001). Caught in the Net: How to Recognize the Signs of Internet Addiction—and a Winning Strategy for Recovery
  • Young, K. S. (2004). Internet Addiction: A New Clinical Phenomenon And Its Consequences. American Behavioral Scientist, 48(4), 402-415.

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