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Addicted to the Internet?

Is there such a thing as internet addiction? And if so, what can you do about it?

Answer (Published 2/9/2010)

That's a good question. Officially, internet addiction is not a diagnosis included in the DSM, the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, but I've read that it may be listed in the 2012 edition. Some research does suggest that internet addiction is real and occurs particularly among adolescents. The incidence appears to be highest in Eastern, rather than Western nations. In fact, both China and South Korea consider internet addiction their number one public health problem.

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A study published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine in October, 2009, concluded that internet addiction is most likely to affect youngsters who are depressed, hostile, have attention deficit disorder or social phobia. Boys are said to be more susceptible than girls; also at risk are those who spend 20 hours a week online or use the internet daily.

And certainly there are some adults who could qualify as internet addicts. I read an account in Newsweek in October, 2009, by a journalist whose brother, age 36, became homeless because of this problem. He spends 10 hours a day online in a free computer lab, mostly on role-playing video games and on blogs and news websites.
Some compare internet addiction with gambling addiction. Experts say that the problem seems to be that in some individuals, the internet activates the same pleasure pathways in the brain as alcohol and drugs.

There are a few centers that treat internet addiction - typically, with antidepressants, treatments for ADHD, and a long break from the computer. David Greenfield, founder of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction in Connecticut, has been treating this disorder for some years and has written about it. You can take a test on his website (some irony in that!) to find out if you're really addicted to the internet by his definition, and you can easily find other websites that discuss the problem.

Unfortunately, if this is a genuine addiction, it is tricky to treat - computers are now part of our daily lives. You can't avoid them as readily as you can alcohol, drugs or gambling.

If your time spent online is interfering with other aspects of your life, and if most - if not all - of your leisure time is devoted to computer usage, you certainly could have a problem. Recognizing it is the first step toward overcoming it.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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