Does Internet Addiction Truly Exist?

Posted under Internet on June 16, 2011
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While excess computer time has certainly become a topic of debate, it has others wondering if the word “addiction” is being taken too far. Many psychologists classify time spent online as a compulsion, and not an addiction. A compulsion is where a person feels compelled to do something, which differs significantly from the physical and psychological dependence of addiction that chemically alters the brain.

Back in 2007 there was a push to include video game addiction in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is essentially the Bible when it comes to classifying mental disorders. The request was rejected due to lack of evidence, and critics claim that these compulsions are no different than watching five hours of television a night. They suggest that there is an underlying condition at the root of the compulsion – perhaps boredom or stress relief?

Researcher Sara Kiesler, PhD of Carnegie Mellon University says there is no research available yet confirming that the problems of Internet usage are not related to other underlying conditions such as loneliness or compulsive gambling. Still, other researchers contend that these individuals might not engage in these types of behaviors had the Internet not provided them with the motive and opportunity to do so. Founder of the Center of Internet Studies, David Greefield, PhD says that the Internet presents a paradox – it helps us form social connections but also fosters seclusion and solidarity.

Greenfield’s research has shown, however, that “problem” Internet users exhibit similar symptoms to those suffering from other addictions. He surveyed over 18,000 Internet users and discovered that nearly 6 percent had met the criteria for compulsive Internet use such as spending hours online without a break, feeling out of control, and hiding the true amount and context of Internet use from others.

Internet addiction has gained popularity partly because people can be anyone they want to be. The Internet provides a false sense of security and anonymity. It also provides an escape from reality, which only adds to its allure and universal appeal.

Recently the Internet has become abuzz with conversation swirling around the term Internet addiction disorder (IAD). Not to be confused with addiction, IAD describes when Internet use becomes problematic to the point of interfering with daily life. What exactly constitutes IAD is also a subject of controversy. Critics argue that original research on the subject was mainly based on exploratory surveys. Exploratory research, while insightful, does not prove a cause-effect relationship, and is therefore purely theory.

For now, it appears that experts will continue to debate over whether or not Internet addiction is actually a legitimate problem. In the meantime, those who believe they may have a problem with Internet use should seek out the help of a professional to rule out any underlying concerns that might be contributing to the issue.