Last updated: 04/8/2019
Author: Addictions.com Medical Review
Reading Time: 4 minutes
You may have heard stories of internet addiction, such as those in which an individual spends more time shopping online or gambling online than he or she does with family or the stories that tout the use of online gaming as the culprit that lead to lack of eating, lack of exercise and an ultimately untimely death; but is internet addiction disorder real? What is internet addiction disorder and is it a legitimate condition that warrants treatment? These are all questions that arise when talking about internet addiction symptoms and the potential diagnosis at hand.
While it is still difficult to define internet addiction as there does not seem to be an abundance of information on the condition, there are some truths in the idea that internet addiction disorder is a legitimate condition that does warrant a need for treatment. Those who suffer from the consequences, the desire and the uncontrollable urges to use the internet may beg to differ with those who believe that internet addiction is simply a fad and is not a real world disease like drug or alcohol addiction.
Formal criteria have been established to determine the validity of psychiatric diagnoses such as internet addiction disorder. In order for a condition to be considered a real psychiatric disorder, there must be:
- A real clinical description of the disorder including the symptoms, profiles of those who typically suffer from the condition and characteristics of individuals affected by the disorder
- Lab studies must be conducted to back the information up
- Other disorders using exclusion criteria must be eliminated from the mix
- Follow up studies must be conducted
- Family studies must be conducted
Currently, internet addiction disorder does not meet all of the above criteria to be considered a legitimate psychiatric diagnosis but it does skirt upon the edge of many of these requirements which is why most psychiatrists and treatment professionals are on the fence when it comes to whether or not internet addiction disorder is real or not. Some believe it is, others believe it’s not.
Diagnosing Internet Addiction Disorder
There are ways to diagnose compulsive internet use as internet addiction disorder. One could make the claim that internet addiction disorder is a spectrum disorder which involves compulsive use of the World Wide Web in a manner that interrupts normal daily life, relationships or other important events. Various components will also come into play when internet addiction disorder is a factor. These include:
- Using the internet excessively and losing track of time when online
- Neglecting responsibilities when online
- Feeling angry, upset or otherwise irritable when unable to go online
- Psychological withdrawal symptoms when not online such as depression, anxiety or irritability
- Developing a tolerance for the internet which is marked by a desire or perceived need for better computer equipment, a faster internet connection, more software or additional hours of online experience
- Lying about internet use or activities performed while online
- Becoming socially isolated when online
- Suffering from fatigue as a result of spending too much time online
- Family or relationship problems resulting from time spent online
Where Internet Addiction Disorder Stands Today
While there is not yet a formal diagnosis in the medicine world when it comes to internet addiction disorder, many continue to argue that the condition is real. The American Medical Association has made recommendations that the American Psychiatric Association take time to review internet addiction disorder and come up with a better definition of what exactly constitutes overuse of the internet, what constitutes compulsive use and what differentiates overuse from obsession or a desire to self-medicate other underlying conditions such as anxiety, depression, social anxiety or a similar disorder.
What this means is: (1) as real as internet addiction may seem, it is still not possible to be formally diagnosed with the condition until the terms of the condition are formally outlined by healthcare professionals; (2) many healthcare professionals believe that internet addiction is simply a compulsive desire to cover up an underlying condition such as depression or anxiety; (3) many perceived cases of internet addiction are actually other compulsions such as shopping addiction, gambling addiction, OCD or a sexual addiction problem.
At this time, internet addiction is still being mapped out by psychiatrists to determine if there is a single subset of characteristics that comprise an internet addict and which cannot be attributed to other conditions or disorders. In the event that a conclusion is made to definitely come up with a classification of internet addiction that does not contain instances of many other disorders being covered up by the user of the World Wide Web then the condition will be in fact considered a real diagnosis but until then there is just not enough to go on.
Regardless, for those who have suffered the consequences of spending too much time online or knowing someone who spends excessive time online, internet addiction disorder still may seem very much a real problem. Most treatment professionals are willing to accept that there is a problem called internet addiction which results from an underlying condition also known as a co-occurring disorder. What this means is that those who believe that they suffer from internet addiction disorder can in fact get help from a treatment professional.