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Internet Addiction - A Mental Health Condition?

posted 01:09 AM EST, Mon March 17, 2008
Internet Addiction - A Mental Health Condition? © Photo: Dewitt

Clinicians say it's real and it's prevalent, and some would like to see internet addiction added to American Psychiatry's official disorders text book.

Got a crackberry problem?

What was once a kind of joke seems less funny now.

British researchers estimate that as many as 10% of internet users develop a compulsive use disorder – and some psychiatrists would like to see internet addiction added to the DSM-V, American psychiatry's official textbook on clinical conditions.

Dr. Jerald Block, of the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, in an editorial in the American Journal of Psychiatry, describes signs of internet addiction as "Excessive gaming, sexual preoccupations and e-mail/text messaging" and argues that the condition needs to be included in the forthcoming edition of the DSM-V.

An internet addict, he says, may lose track of time while using their computer, and may also neglect basic needs such as sleep, sex and food in favor of time spent online. Such people tend to need increasingly expensive and sophisticated technology, feel anxious when they are unable to get online, and feel withdrawal if forced to stop. Relapse rates for internet addicts are high.

While early research indicated than the most likely sufferers of the condition where introverted and educated men, new studies show that stay-at-home moms and middle aged women may be largest group of addicts.

As the condition is a relatively new phenomenon, researchers have yet to formalize diagnostic procedures, and it can be difficult for clinicians to gauge when normal computing passes into a compulsive disorder. John MacDonald, an addiction therapist with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, argues that the line is crossed when computer usage becomes a problem in someone's life. Some questions he asks when evaluating clients are:

"Is the person pre-occupied with getting, and staying online? If they're not able to engage in it, is it emotionally upsetting for them? Are they isolating themselves too much? Is too much time being diverted to that activity? Is it causing upheaval or conflict in their relationships?"

Researchers acknowledge a ways to go in their quest to understand the compulsion, but suspect a neurological basis for the behaviors of the addiction.

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