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Internet-Use Disorder – Is the Web Affecting Your Mental Health?

internet addiction, internet use disorder, mental health

The latest edition of psychiatry’s diagnostic manual will include Internet-Use Disorder as a condition recommended for further study. Early research into internet addiction compares the disorder as being similar to other addictive behaviors, such as nicotine dependence and alcohol abuse. But is it truly a separate disorder, or a consequence of a co-existing mental health condition such as depression or anxiety?

The fifth addition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) will be released in May 2013. It is the most comprehensive resource available for mental health clinicians to diagnose psychiatric disease.

The inclusion of a “new” mental illness is a widely debated issue. On one hand, people can become so dependent upon something - be it cigarettes, alcohol, eating, or gambling - that it interferes with their daily lives. However, some believe that the addictive behavior is a consequence or secondary outcome of another cause such as depression.

Dr. Christian Montag from the Department for Differential and Biological Psychology at the University of Bonn, who has conducted research on the topic, believes Internet Use Disorder is real. "Internet addiction is not a figment of our imagination. Researchers and therapists are increasingly closing in on it," he says.

A small study has found that teens addicted to the Internet even have structural changes in the brain such as lower levels of gray matter density compared to those who are not addicted. A separate study may have pinpointed a genetic mutation that causes some people to have an increased tendency toward addiction similar to the one that plays an important role in nicotine addiction. Women are more likely to be addicted to the Internet than men.

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Psychology professionals in Australia have welcomed the addition of Internet Use Disorder in their psychiatric manual. Researchers there say that not only computers, but other technology such as mobile devices and gaming should also be included.

''With kids, gaming is an obvious issue. But overall, technology use could be a potential problem,'' said Mike Kyrios from Swinburne University of Technology, one of the authors of the Australian Psychological Society's submission to the DSM-IV who is pushing for IUD to be formally included in the list of addictions.

Dr. Keith Ablow, writing for FoxNews as a member of the network’s Medical A-Team, agrees that technology does have a negative effect on some people.

“The APA is clearly onto something and could still help lead the way in trying to defeat what I believe will be the greatest psychiatric epidemic of all time: The loss of reality and sense of self that the Internet, social networking, computer gaming and reality TV are causing, leading to pathological, delusional narcissism – generations who can't see themselves for who they are, or the world for what it is, or find real solutions to pressing, even catastrophic problems in their personal lives, the lives or their children or the life of our culture,” Dr. Ablow writes.

He adds, “The Internet and other technologies and forms of entertainment I have noted are the most dangerous class of drugs the world has ever known. First, a larger population is exposed than has been exposed to any drug in the entire history of our species. Children as young as two are introduced to it by their parents. The elderly are introduced to it by their children. It has achieved widespread social acceptance. It feels empowering when it is dis-empowering.”

According to an editorial in the American Journal of Psychiatry, these are some signs that show a person is addicted to the internet:
1) Excessive use, often associated with a loss of sense of time or a neglect of basic drives.
2) Withdrawal, including feelings of anger, tension, and/or depression when the computer is inaccessible.
3) Tolerance, including the need for better computer equipment, more software, or more hours of use.
4) Negative repercussions, including arguments, lying, poor achievement, social isolation, and fatigue.

FoxNews: American Psychiatric Association poised to declare Internet a drug
Publication: The role of the CHRNA4 Gene in Internet Addiction – A Case-control Study, "Journal of Addiction Medicine," DOI: 10.1097/ADM.0b013e31825ba7e7, University of Bonn