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Is Internet Addiction Really the ‘New’ Mental Disorder?

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?

Here’s the original claim made by Walton over at Forbes:

Internet addiction, or formally, Internet Use Disorder (IUD), will soon be included as an actual, diagnosable mental health disorder, although the authors do say it still needs a lot of additional study.1

The confusion lies in the fact that the new disorder, called Internet Use Disorder, will apparently appear in the equivalent of an appendix in the new reference manual on mental disorders. This is according to the latest draft, which still may undergo changes before its actual publication.

This section is specifically to help those psychology professionals and researchers who are studying these disorders. It is not meant for diagnosing regular patients seen outside of research studies.

Furthermore, Medicaid, Medicare and most insurance companies will not reimburse for treatment for disorders in this category. Since these three cover the vast majority of how mental health treatment in the U.S. is paid for, it effectively means you will not receive an “Internet Use Disorder” diagnosis any time soon (unless you’re participating in research on the disorder).

Walton also breezes over the fact that this disorder has been one of the most contentiously debated in the past decade among addiction professionals and researchers. While many claim it definitely exists, others call into question the quality of the research, and how the definition of the disorder is constantly changing. Our last major review of the topic occurred nearly four years ago and examined a then-recent meta-analysis which summarized these flaws. A new review is underway.

But the DSM-5 working group has looked at all the research published and, despite its quantity, still found it wanting. That’s probably because it lacks the quality the DSM-5 committee was looking for.

Sadly, none of this was mentioned in the Forbes article. Instead, the author chose to emphasize a few random positive studies talking about brain changes in someone who has “Internet addiction,” including one that suggested it might even have a genetic component! No mention of the meta-analyses done on this disorder — studies that help collect and summarize the entirety of a body of research.2

I think it’s great that someone with a doctorate in biopsychology is shedding light on this issue on a mainstream website like Forbes. But it’s the kind of one-sided light that really makes you wonder about their ability to look at a body of research and report on it with some objectivity.


?Wondering if you’re ‘addicted’ to the Internet?
Find out now with our free Internet addiction quiz


Need to understand the issue more clearly? Check out our Internet Addiction Guide

Read the full entry: The New Mental Health Disorder: Internet Addiction

Is Internet Addiction Really the ‘New’ Mental Disorder?


  1. After contacting the author directly, she edited this sentence to read, “…may soon be included as an actual mental health disorder…” []
  2. Given the randomness of the studies cited and how they were cited, I wonder if Walton has access to an actual research database other than PubMed. []

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). Is Internet Addiction Really the ‘New’ Mental Disorder?. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 3, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 2 Oct 2012)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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