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Is Internet Addiction Really the ‘New’ Mental Disorder?

I was a bit mystified at Alice G. Walton’s piece on Forbes today about the “new” mental disorder, Internet Addiction Disorder (traditionally called IAD, but the DSM-5 draft has confusingly renamed it the unfortunate Internet Use Disorder, or IUD).

As readers of World of Psychology know, Internet Addiction has been around since 1996. Indeed, we published our Guide to Internet Addiction back in 1999.

Here it is 13 years later, and there’s still no clear answer on whether this disorder actually exists.

Indeed, the DSM-5 working group on addictive disorders wasn’t convinced either. That’s why it is not going to be included as a diagnosable disorder in the new DSM 5, out next year.

Yet the Forbes piece makes just the opposite claim. So what’s going on?

9 Comments to
Is Internet Addiction Really the ‘New’ Mental Disorder?

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  1. Thanks, Dr. Grohol for setting the record straight on the “so called” Internet Addiction Disorder. In most cases, the term is used by ‘reluctant digital immigrants” (i.e., older people who are intimidated by new technologies) as a name calling. Instead of saying, ” I do not like or do not understand why some people spend long time online”,, they say “you’re addicted”. Of course, mental health professional are invested in creating more and new disorders as it can increase their practices and income. I have written on the topic with my ‘digital native’ daughter at,on.html

  2. While Internet addiction is possible. I think the interpretation of addiction to the Internet needs to be defined. Since I am a chronic Internet user, I do not consider it an addiction. Am I in denial? No, because I do admit that I spend a lot of time on the Internet. I do not let it interfere with the basics of my life, like eating, sleeping, taking care of household chores and my pets. I know that it will still be there when I get back. I have multiple disabilities, including 100% deafness. The Internet is my main form of communication. I hardly watch TV, except for movies. I think it’s healthy to explore interesting subjects. If you cannot travel for any reason, it’s fun to “travel” through the Google pics, explore a certain specie of animal, plant, and whatever subject that interests you. I believe this is pretty much equivalent to reading off of books. Chatting is a great way to connect when you can’t connect with others, like with deafness with me. I think we need to be careful in how we define Internet addiction…. Of course, everyone will have different views on this. The Internet has made my life more varied. It helps me thrive with my multiple disabilities and medical conditions. 😀

  3. I do find getting an email from some I like, or finding some amazing fact on the net, gives me a very strong, short “hit” rather like a super strong coffee, I don’t seem to get exactly the same kind of intense squirt of pleasure anywhere else. I don’t know why this is, perhaps it is mildly addictive tho I spend less than an hour a day on the net.I know people who spend 10 hour + a day on war games and are “hyper-vigilant”, interpret innocent actions by others as vicious attacks, very scary and sad.I don’t think the DSM team are perfect, even though they seem to think they are. I lost a lot of faith in them when they look ‘narcissism’ off their list of disorders, anyone in their position probably is a narcissist. They’re not immune to denial, fashion delusion and undue influence from the powers that be.Cheers

  4. The closest thing I’ve seen to internet addiction involves getting caught in depressive ahedonia loops. Essentially caught up in the activity with little if any pleasure to satisfy them. – It’s not just internet other activities may fill the role.I’ve experienced this myself with antidepressants and heard of a few cases consistent with this. I know anecdote is not the plural for data. Still this phenomenon may be worth investigating if this isn’t already widely known by professionals.

  5. I think it is premature to add “internet addiction” to the DSM-5, as a discrete clinical diagnosis or disorder. It should be included as a condition “for further study.” That said, there seems to be a growing consensus that most “addictive” behaviors involve related brain circuits and neurotransmitters, perhaps including addictive behaviors related to electronic devices and media. For more on this, please see:

    Ronald Pies MD

    • Dr. Pies,
      I have read your paper and as a mother of a child who is falling apart with internet addiction, I can personalty say that the academic and collegiate observations are scientific jargon to boost your ego. Unfortunately while all you MD’s and such, discuss the problem and decide, people are loosing there life because there is little to no help for the parents or individuals.
      My child will go into a complete meltdown and loose it in ways that cannot be explained as a tantrum. She gets sweaty, looses her concentration, swears, throws things and even slapped me once when I pulled the internet.Her eyes get glassy and shift all over like she is on something as well. She has very little friends, spend all day and night on it if she can. She is failing school and will not practice hygiene.I know that everyone blames the parent. I have had her in counseling and trying to get help for years.She has other diagnosis which many addicts also have. She refused to put her laptop down, even brings it in the bathroom. Tell me that is normal. Oh and I am not a parent who does not get the internet or has something against it. I use it myself. I must say, that I find it idiotic that so much debate is going on with this diagnosis, while we have gambling in the DSM as a addiction all ready. Certainly it does not hit all the marks in clinical addiction and chemical changes of the brain. I wish academic smarts would catch up with reality. Maybe we would have less people shooting people in schools, if we spent less time defining these mental illnesses and more time helping the people and families.

  6. Although there are valid claims in this article, I am a little mystified as how it is possible for some to consider that internet addiction is not real or happening to many people.

    I suppose that South Korea and China have lost their minds by investing obscene quantities of money on the study and aid to those who suffer from the disorder. Honestly, there may be a lack of support from the studies done in the U.S. But there are thousands of Americans who DO suffer from IUD. Their lives ARE negatively effected including their relationships, careers and physical and mental health. The same vicious cycle seen in other addictions does kick in for those suffering from IUD. As the situation gets worse, their usage heightens.

    Furthermore, I feel that this article was slightly offensively written to solely discredit one author’s stand point on the subject. (Albeit that there was just plain wrong information in the forbe’s article). Talking about one sided. It seems to me that very little research has been done on the population when considering how much has been done for substance addictions, sexual addictions and other behavioral addictions. The internet is a powerful gateway to a huge amount of addictive activities including gaming, gambling, sex and many other avenues of abusive activity. Although some might claim that sex and gambling addictions that are pursued online are still categorized as their previously mentioned categories, there is still something to consider when the internet is simplifying the method of abuse at such great lengths.

  7. I’ve just started researching this because I’m trying to find some answers, but I believe my adolescent son is internet addicted (gaming, FB, Youtube) and I would compare it to crack or meth. The difference between your typical user and my son is the internet completely interferes with his life and I see it destroying him and his relationship to the rest of the family.

    Are there other comorbid problems that have contributed to it? I think so. I believe he also has depression and anxiety. But instead of turning to alcohol or drugs he goes to gaming and FB. Interestingly, similar to an alcoholic or drug addict, he is embarassed about this dependence. He has gotten angry and destroyed his phone and other devices (he currently has a pay-as-you-go phone without data). He now owns no other gaming devices since he destroyed each of them when people saw him on them.

    Our next step is to remove all internet at the house but it’s difficult because there are others who need to use it for school and work.

  8. :/ If this actually becomes a mental illness, you’ll be sending practically half the teenagers and kids all over the world to rehab. Most teenagers depend on the internet because we actually have people who understand our problems and won’t judge us. Have you seen our society? Drugs, Pregnancy, Sex, Alcohol, people judging others. They’re the reasons why we depend on the internet. They taught us we need to be skinny, have perfect hair and face, be perfect.They cause Depression, Bulimia, Selfharm, Anorexia, other serious mental illnesses.

    If you’ve never been through any of these, you wouldn’t understand the feeling. We have to talk to people who understand us, we need music, we want to be alone. You say the music we listen to is bad for us. ( Black Veil Brides, Bring Me the Horizon, Pierce The Veil) But if you listen to it, you can understand the lyrics. They’ve saved many people from committing suicide. More than you’ll ever be able to.

    Right now, I bet you’re thinking ” Oh, she’s just a silly teenager, she doesn’t know anything. We’re grownups, we know more. ” I’d be laughing if you did. Do you know what having anxiety is like? Do you know what it’s like not being able to sleep? Feeling like those monsters in your head will get you? Depression? Thinking people are making fun of you? No. You don’t. If you think sending people with these problems to a therapist will help, it doesn’t. When family and friends aren’t there, the internet is. That’s what keeps us SANE. I listen to music when I can because that’s what helps me.

    Facebook, Instagram, Wattpad, Tumblr, Twitter, Ask.FM, Games, all those have teens who vent about their problems and get advice from other people. Telling them to just ignore the pain and try to be happy is like telling someone with a broken arm to pick up something heavy. It takes time. Sometimes, grownups just add to the problem. ( no offence? )

    :p Sorry for ranting, I add too much details to things. Point is, if you decide to make internet addiction a me tail illness, think about the Cons. You’re gonna risk increasing suicide rates, more problems, complaints.
    Personally, I think turning to the internet, listening to music we like, and being antisocial half the time is better than sneaking out, getting drunk, doing drugs, breaking laws, and getting pregnant. But, if you still want to make it a mental illness after reading all of that, go ahead. It’ll end faster than when it was being studied.

    :p Don’t sue me for posting this, I’m just saying what would happen if you went through with your plan. You either save yourself and many other people the trouble, or create a disaster.



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