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Not in the DSM-5: Internet Addiction & Parental Alienation Disorder

Not in the DSM-5: Internet Addiction & Parental Alienation DisorderDisappointing to some professionals, I’m sure, is the fact that two disorders didn’t make it into the DSM-5 at all — not even in the chapter “Conditions for Further Study.”

Those two lonely disorders? “Internet addiction” and parental alienation disorder.

This is a nice respite from the hype surrounding both these concerns and reaffirms what we’ve been saying here for years — these are not mental disorders. Do some people have a usually-temporary and almost-always transitory problem with figuring out how much time to spend on the Internet? Sure they do — it’s just not a disorder-level concern.

And the evidence is simply too sparse for “parental alienation disorder,” which I believe has propagated more for legal than clinical reasons.

Nearly since the introduction of the term “Internet addiction” in 1996, I’ve been beating the same drum about this so-called disorder — it doesn’t exist. I wrote a guide to Internet addiction back in 1999, which we keep updated from time to time.

So here we have 17 years’ worth of research, and still the disorder doesn’t even rise to the level of recognition in the DSM of a condition that may need further study. That could be for one of two reasons. One, the working group that looked at the research was biased and decided that such a disorder couldn’t possibly exist (which would require consensus among the entire working group — a pretty unlikely scenario). Two, the research is still so flimsy and based upon the same flawed instruments it’s been using for most of that 17 years, the data are simply not robust or generalizable.

In 2008, I penned this article about why Internet addiction still doesn’t exist. I had to do an update just 8 months ago to rebut the claim by Forbes that Internet addiction was going to be included in the new DSM-5. (A good argument not to get your health information from a website like Forbes.)

The DSM-5 working groups also didn’t much care for parental alienation disorder, a disorder we covered late last year here. The research data for this concern simply doesn’t support its inclusion at this time. Which is exactly what we told our readers last September (just so there are no surprises!):

‘‘The bottom line — it is not a disorder within one individual,’’ said Dr. Darrel Regier, vice chair of the task force drafting the manual.

‘‘It’s a relationship problem — parent-child or parent-parent. Relationship problems per se are not mental disorders.’

Could you imagine the outcry the American Psychiatric Association — the publishers of the DSM-5 — would receive if they started coding relationship problems as mental illness, on the same level as schizophrenia or clinical depression?

The evidence for both these disorders is so lacking, neither made it into the category “Conditions for Further Study.” That’s saying something — especially for “Internet addiction,” which has had hundreds of peer-reviewed studies published about it.

For all the misplaced angst and media-created melodrama surrounding the publication of the DSM-5, we can be thankful neither of these two disorders made the cut.

Not in the DSM-5: Internet Addiction & Parental Alienation Disorder

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). Not in the DSM-5: Internet Addiction & Parental Alienation Disorder. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 4, 2020, from
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Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 29 May 2013)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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