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Is Internet Addiction a Medical Condition? 227

Posted by kdawson
from the depraved-on-accounta-he's-deprived dept.
PreacherTom writes "Arising from such cases as a recent lawsuit with IBM over employee termination due to online sex chatting at work, recent debate over whether Internet abuse is a legitimate addiction, akin to alcoholism, is heating up. From the article: 'Attorneys say recognition by a court — whether in this or some future litigation — that Internet abuse is an uncontrollable addiction, and not just a bad habit, could redefine the condition as a psychological impairment worthy of protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act.' The condition could even make it into the next edition of the American Psychiatric Association's DSM, making it a full-blown neurosis. It wouldn't be a huge surprise, with a recent Stanford study showing that 14% of people state it would be 'hard to stay away from the Net for even a few days in a row."
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Is Internet Addiction a Medical Condition?

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  • That's Easy. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mfh (56) on Thursday December 14, 2006 @10:52AM (#17236366) Homepage Journal
    No. It's just that it's a positive thing and when you remove it, you are left with negative feelings. So it may seem like an addiction but it's actually more like oxygen.

    When I can't get online, I am being deprived of stimulus that makes me feel efficient. When I have to thumb through hard paper manuals to get info, it makes me feel sad, aggrivated and annoyed.

    I stop looking and wait for it to come back online. I do something else.
  • Back in the day. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by the dark hero (971268) <adriatic_hero@ho ... UGARom minus cat> on Thursday December 14, 2006 @10:59AM (#17236512) Homepage
    I experienced internet withdrawals back in 2002 when my DSL was taken away from me. The first month was hell. After three months i had totally forgotten i ever had the internet. The addiction is real as is an addiction to anything. The reason it's being considered a medical condition is because of the popularity of the addiction. I can honestly say i haven't had my own broadband connection until a month ago and now i feel i dont know how to surf the web, but atleast i dont waste time in front of a computer as much.
  • by DJ Jones (997846) on Thursday December 14, 2006 @11:01AM (#17236544) Homepage
    This article further supports my theory that the field of psychology is bunch of bull-shit. Neurology is a science. Psychology is a bunch of philosophers conjuring up imaginary diseases to reinforce everyone's imaginary "problems" I'm writing this Slashdot entry instead of doing office work right now. It doesn't mean I have a problem. I'm just bored.
  • In related news (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MosesJones (55544) on Thursday December 14, 2006 @11:07AM (#17236660) Homepage

    Cleveland Browns fans who attend every game are also claiming their rights as an addicted minority. "Its horrible" said one fan "year after year we suck and I keep going just waiting for that one big 'hit'"

    Celeb Rags also applied for registration under the disability act on the basis that they have "an unreasonable compulsion to print any old crappy photo of anyone who has even been seen with someone who has been on TV", this compulsion is so bad that they are forced to produce glossy magazines every single week.

    But if the Internet is an addiction ala heroin, does that make AOL methadone?
  • by rwven (663186) on Thursday December 14, 2006 @11:13AM (#17236738)
    I don't think there's such thing as a specific addiction tot he internet. I think people, through genetics and upbringing, develop addictive personalities. The internet just happens to be what they latch on to. Some people delve into alcohol, some into gambling, some into MMORPG's, or a plethora of other things. Frank may be addicted to WoW, but his twin brother may focus his addiction on gambling. Both can be just as destructive as one another to your personal and professional life...

    I think pinning it on the internet is just diagnosing a symptom, not a disease.
  • Information addict (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DaoudaW (533025) on Thursday December 14, 2006 @11:14AM (#17236770)
    When I was in 4th grade, I got in trouble by reading the encyclopedia before I had my homework done. Now I'm 50, have been a teacher for years, and tend to scan my live bookmarks, the make blog, and slashdot before I grade tests or make lesson plans. Does it affect my work? Probably. Does it make me a better teacher? Arguably. Could I stop if I chose to? Probably not?

    About 15 years ago I lived in an African village for 3 years. What did I miss most? My morning newspaper and public library! I know people who would say the same thing about the NY Times Crossword Puzzle. I don't see any difference between these examples and so-called internet addiction. Maybe psychologists should include these in the DSM too!
  • by cperciva (102828) on Thursday December 14, 2006 @11:18AM (#17236834) Homepage
    Compared to regular medical diagnoses, it's remarkable that the important boundary between healthy and ill is set at an arbitrarily chosen number of symptoms (3 out of 6 or 4 out of 7)

    You seem to be implying that non-psychiatric ailments are clear-cut in their diagnoses; while this is true in some cases (e.g., a viral infection is defined by the presence of the virus), it is not true for all diseases. Type 2 diabetes, for example, is defined as "fasting plasma glucose >= 7.0 mM, OR plasma glucose >= 11 mM two hours after a 75g glucose challenge OR random plasma glucose >= 11.1 mM", while the level of blood pressure which is diagnosed as "high" depends upon the presence of other risk factors for heart disease.

    Most psychiatric conditions are just like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol: There's a continuum between very healthy and very sick, and groups of doctors get together to decide how to draw a line.
  • by NotAHappyCoder (223421) on Thursday December 14, 2006 @11:23AM (#17236946) Homepage
    When ever I'm on a vacation, I try to stay away from computers as much as possible. For example I had a five week vacation this year and I used the Net only three times. And on each time it was about checking my email. (Yes, I checked my email only three times in five weeks! There were quite many unread messages waiting for me each time :-) )

    At work I have to stare the screen 8 hours per day. I don't want to do that when I'm on vacation. It is not good for your physical well being to sit all day long.
  • by ari wins (1016630) on Thursday December 14, 2006 @11:49AM (#17237506)
    It may not be a all-out medical condition, but Vasocongestion http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_balls [wikipedia.org] certainly is. That's why I'm on the net constantly looking for ways to prevent it from happening to me.
  • by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Thursday December 14, 2006 @12:11PM (#17237970) Homepage Journal
    But there's being addicted, and then there's it being a "disease." Frankly, I think B. F. Skinner would scoff at the notion. To him, everything was stimulus -> response -> reinforcement, and the more reinforcing an activity was, the more an organism would engage in it. I

    Additionally, the less regular the response the more addictive it can be. The old story of the mouse who presses at the lever occasionally when it always dispenses a treat, but feverishly when it randomly dispenses a treat. Slot machines work on the same principle.

    In other words, go into your Slashdot preferences and turn off mails about moderation of your comments. Don't go back and look at how your comments were moderated. They're exactly that kind of stimulus.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 14, 2006 @01:00PM (#17239018)
    However, do the same thing to someone addicted to alcohol, and they might die. That's real addiction.

    So is an addiction only an addiction if the withdrawal will kill you? By your definition opiate addiction wouldn't be an addiction. Long term abuse of opiates can cause (sometimes permanent) changes to the individuals brain chemistry. PET scans and Cognitive Skills evaluations have shown that people who have abused amphetamines have permanent changes to their neurological functions, i.e. brain damage.

    So is an addiction only an addiction if it causes permanent physiological changes? Opiates and amphetamines on the brain, alcohol on the liver, cigarettes on the lungs.

    That person you locked in the room with an internet or gambling addiction undergoes a temporary neurological change in that their brain becomes dependent on their particular activity to release dopamine. The difference between an addiction and a habit is the addicted individual has become dependent on their habit to get through the day.

  • by BakaHoushi (786009) <.Goss.Sean. .at. .gmail.com.> on Thursday December 14, 2006 @01:33PM (#17239618) Homepage
    IANAP (I am not a psychologist) I think the OP is more or less trying to point out that there's a difference between physical addictions (alcohol, nicotine, harder drugs, etc.) and mental addictions (gaming, sex, though rarely both in the same individual =p).

    To be fair, ANYTHING can be mentally addicting in the right individual.

    Suppose a child enjoys cleaning, to a degree. Now suppose that during that child's life, s/he uses cleaning as an excuse to avoid his/her mother or farther when he hears issues involving domestic abuse, or other problems at home. Over time, the child starts to clean whenever anything even remotely stressful happens. Got a B on your report card and not an A? Clean. Car won't start? Clean. Overcooked dinner? Clean.

    What we'd have here is a classic case of a coping mechanism, though it may seem to be like an actual addiction. Studies find child to be addicted to cleaning even after the room is spotless! No.

    So there, I do suppose that was a weak example, but my point is that whether or not there is actual withdrawal physically is the key here. Does cocaine physically harm you if you take enough and then stop? Yes. Does Marijuana/other opiates? I'm not an FDA agent, but I'd say no. Long term, I don't doubt it can screw with your brain, but I think that counts as "long term effects" and not "withdrawal."

    Maybe the Internet can seem to be addicting because so many people find comfort in it. It informs us, entertains us, and often gives us at least some mean of widespread, cheap communication in a world where things seem to grow more impersonal by the day (Arguable, but many feel this way). So, I'm sure in this case, the Internet does not count as an addiction because, as the OP said, it's a symptom, not the disease. It's a sign of problems people face in modern society.

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