[PSYBER/B Social Psychology of Psyberspace]


Internet Addiction Disorder: Fact or Fiction?

Let's say, for a moment, that a friend has introduced you to something new. This new thing seems strange, and wonderful, and gives you a sense of being "high." Initially, it does not take much to feel this high, but over time, it takes more and more to rise up to that previous level. The cravings increase, leading to an increased dosage. These increased cravings and dosages soon invade most parts of your life. You wonder constantly when you are going to get your next fix. You begin to shape your life around this "drug," putting things such as school, family, and work second below it on your list of priorities. Eventually, you are helpless to this "drug." Some would say that you are under complete control. You seek help, realizing that you cannot do it alone. Is this drug heroin, marijuana, alcohol, or another chemical? Perhaps, but it could also be something that does not chemically affect you at all. This "drug" can be electronic. Within this domain falls computers and the Internet and the many different features on it, such as Mud's, Moo's, and IRC.

Preposterous you think? Think again. All across the world, people are seeking help because they feel that they are losing control of their life (see Recovery.org). Support groups are springing up on and off the 'net, and people within the psychology field are beginning to examine this new phenomena. Although some attach the word "addiction" to their Internet use facetiously, for many it is a serious problem. Before this new concept is taken further, let's establish what is meant by addiction.

Addiction is a very broad term. Someone can be "addicted" to simple, seemingly harmless things, such as the telephone, a video game, or exercise. John Suler, Ph.D. of Rider University, states that addictions can be either healthy or unhealthy. He goes on to say "If you are fascinated by a hobby, feel devoted to it, would like to spend as much time as possible pursuing it - this could be an outlet for learning, creativity, and self-expression. Even in some unhealthy addictions you can find these positive features embedded within (and thus maintaining) the problem. But in truly pathological addictions, the scale has tipped. The bad outweighs the good, resulting in serious disturbances in one's ability to function in the 'real' world." (Suler, 1996) This can certainly be applied to the Internet, as psychologists are currently finding.

Psychological examination of the possibility of Internet Addiction is a very new field. Although there is no current listing of Internet or Computer Addiction in DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), some psychologists are attempting to raise awareness of the existence of such an addiction. These psychologists are likening it to addictions such as gambling, and are attempting to find ways to help those who may be stricken. Their efforts are gaining attention, and providing help for those who find this "addiction" a reality.

One such psychologist is Ivan Goldberg, MD. Goldberg has written a DSM-IV style definition of Internet Addiction, and has started a support group type listserv in order to help those who may be suffering. In this definition, Goldberg coins the name of the addiction "Internet Addiction Disorder," or IAD for short. Goldberg then gives lengthy details about such things as increased tolerance, leading to increasing amounts of time spent online. He also speaks about withdrawal symptoms in terms of "psychomotor agitation," "anxiety," "obsessive thinking about what is happening on Internet," "fantasies or dreams about Internet," and "voluntary or involuntary typing movements of the fingers." Goldberg lists other symptoms as well. One of these states: "Internet use is continued despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical, social, occupational, or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by Internet use (sleep deprivation, marital difficulties, lateness for early morning appointments, neglect of occupational duties, or feelings of abandonment in significant others)" 

A second psychologist has gone even further than Goldberg. Dr. Kimberly S. Young has started an organization called "Center for On-Line Addiction" for helping those who may be addicted. Young offers such things as help to individuals and families, and giving services to the corporate world to help prevent employees from becoming too attached (Young, 1998). To be addicted to the Internet, Young feels that four of the following criteria must be met:

(Suler, 1996).  A number of centers have opened across the country to help people deal with their internet addiction and a list of these organizations can be found at Recovery.Org .  Also, an excellent resource for more information about internet addiction and its treatment can be found at A Forever Recovery.

What makes the Internet so addictive? That is what psychologists are trying to find out. While most psychologists are reluctant to use the term "addiction," it is plain to see that some people are developing a dependency. One study, conducted by Viktor Brenner of Marquette University, indicates some preliminary support for the idea that people's lives may be adversely affected, and that some people may actually suffer such things as "tolerance," "craving," and "withdrawal." Brenner suggests that such things as personality disorders, family problems, quality of life, and current distress and disfigurements should be explored (Brenner, 1997). Mark Griffiths of Nottingham Trent University offers several theories. First of all, most of the identified "addicts" are teenagers, usually male, with little to no social life and very low self-esteem. Among those who were identified as being possibly "addicted," the main activity is IRC and role playing fantasy games (such as MUD's and MOO's). These people are drawn to such things because "both chat rooms and fantasy games on the Internet allow an anonymous individual user to take on other social identities since there is no face-to-face interaction. Basically the user can raise his own self-esteem and feel continually rewarded by users elsewhere on the system." Griffiths also raises a previous theory that people are just following an established trend where they are spending more and more time with technology, and increasingly less time with humans. Thirdly, he speculates that perhaps it is the software itself, with its possibly addictive features that are causing the problem. Griffiths maintains that further research should be conducted (Griffiths, 1997). Storm A. King writes in his 1996 paper entitled "Is the Internet Addictive, or Are Addicts Using the Internet?" about people who may be vulnerable to becoming possibly "addicted." King states "Fantasy proneness, shyness, social phobia, perceived lack of social status or attention are all characteristics that, when exposed to the instant acceptance and projection filled nature of virtual interpersonal relations, might constitute a vulnerability to IAD." (King, 1997) One common theme seems to be running through these studies, and studies that are similar: These people seem to have problems with self-esteem and interpersonal communication, and seem to find the anonymous communication found on the Internet to be easier to deal with than communication in real life.

One interesting aspect about Internet Addiction is the existence of addictions to Cybersex. There are multiple types of sexual addictions and sexual offenders, but this phenomena related to Cybersex is the newest. Erotic IRC channels, Usenet Newsgroups, MUD's, MOO's and web pages fill the Internet. Many people are becoming addicted to such things, and it is starting to gain attention in the fields of Psychology and Mental Health. Psychologists John E. Bingham and Chris Piotrowski reported in a 1996 paper that the environment of "pseudovirtual reality" or "interactive externalized fantasy" allows people to operationalize their deepest sexual fantasies, and gain from the instant feedback. Both agree that a great deal of work needs to be done in the area. (Bingham and Piotrowski, 1996) This seems to become an increasing problem, as the amount of stories in the news about pedophile Cybersex, and other types of similar crimes increases, so further work is definitely a necessity.

Who is becoming addicted? As stated, studies have shown that the majority of those addicted are teenagers, usually male. College students also make up a large part of the group. These students become attracted to the Internet as a way to fill their time, but ironically, it soon controls how they spend their time. College students are especially vulnerable because of the fact that increasingly, colleges are granting their students free accounts. Jonathan Kandell, Ph.D. of the University of Maryland-College Park states "These people stay on their computers from midnight 'til the sun comes up. It becomes a downward spiral they get sucked into." Some students eventually seek help, but many times, not initially for addiction. Students recognize that the Internet is an escape from other problems that need to be addressed. Some of these problems are shyness, low self-esteem, and poor interpersonal communication skills. Universities across the country are trying to implement programs to help those who may be "addicted," but attendance is poor. Some feel that this may be due in large part to denial of the problem in the first place. (Murray, 1996) Awareness about the dangers of IDA needs to be raised, so that the problem is better addressed.

Internet Addiction, although not formally recognized in DSM-IV, is a legitimate problem. People's lives are being adversely affected due to their overuse of computers. Studies have shown that IRC, as well as fantasy role-playing games such as Mud's and Moo's are the biggest causes of this possible "addiction." Although harmless to most, these things can create a dependency in certain vulnerable types of people. Through education, awareness, and more in-depth study, perhaps we can find a solution to this growing problem of Cyberspace.

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AForeverRecovery.Com  Addiction treatment organization that includes internet addiction.  Good source of information about the nature of internet addiction and its treatment.  URL:  http://aforeverrecovery.com/how-to-recognize-and-handle-internet-addiction/

Recovery.Org.  Internet Addiction Recovery Centers.  Available Online:  http://www.recovery.org/topics/internet-addiction-recovery/

Suler, John Ph.D. "Computer and Cyberspace Addiction" Rider University 8/96
Available Online: http://www1.rider.edu/~suler/psycyber/cybaddict.html

Goldberg, Ivan, MD "Internet Addictions"
Available Online: http://www.transarc.com/afs/transarc.com/public/mic/html/Addiction.html

Young, Kimberly Dr. (1998) "Dr. Kimberly S. Young - The Center for On-Line Addiction (COLA) - Research, Counseling, and Consultation about Internet Behavior"
Available Online: http://netaddiction.com

Brenner, Viktor (1997) "Psychology of Computer Use XLVII. Parameters of Internet Use, Abuse, and Addiction: The First 90 Days of the Internet Usage Survey" Psychological Reports 80, 879-882

Griffiths, Mark (1997) "Psychology of Computer Use: XLIII. Some Comments on 'Addictive Use of the Internet' by Young" Psychological Reports 80, 81-82

King, Storm A. (1996) "Is the Internet Addictive, or Are Addicts Using the Internet?"
Available Online: http://rdz.stjohns.edu/~storm/iad.html

Bingham, J. E., & Piotrowski, C (1996) "On-Line Addiction: A Contemporary Enigma" Psychological -Reports, 257-258

Murray, Bridget (1996) "Computer addictions entangle students" APA Monitor, June 1996
Available Online: http://www.apa.org/monitor/jun96/onlinea.html

This web page was created by Jon-Richard Little, Jeremiah Jackson, and Chuck "Cold Turkey" Cohara for PSY 380.k at Miami University.
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PsyberSite, Miami University.This document was created April 19, 1998 and last modified on  Monday, December 22, 2014 at 12:32:40.  This document has been accessed 1 times. Comments & Questions to R. Sherman . Also See: Social Psychology at Miami University