Dept. of Communication, Cornell University
Presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association
Boston August, 1999
Recent attention to Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) raises concerns about conceptualization and etiology of such a syndrome. An alternative syndrome, Communication Addiction Disorder, is proposed. Research describing symptomatology and deleterious effects of too much talking are reviewed which parallel IAD characteristics in several respects. These disorders are then critiqued, as a means to identify problems in the reification of new addiction classifications that, despite their utility in clinical settings, are as yet inadequately conceptualized, theorized, or measured.
Communication Addiction Disorder: Concern over Media, Behavior and Effects
Growing concern over excessive use of the Internet by individuals has led to a spate of labels, measures, conceptualizations, and treatments (see for review Griffiths, 1998). Such approaches have, however, moved much faster than theoretical consideration, measurement validation, and research into competing etiological explanations and comparable behavioral patterns. Before a general acceptance of Internet Addiction is reified, further reflection is warranted and alternative syndromes should be considered.
Communication Addiction Disorder
There is a widespread problem that threatens to interfere with people’s everyday normal functioning in personal relations and social activities. Research makes clear that a significant portion of the student population exhibits this disorder, and anecdotal and statistical evidence points to a similar proportion in the general population. As is true with many other addictive-type disorders, it is often noticed first and found to be upsetting by one’s interactional partners. Moreover, for the growing numbers of people who are able to find social support, meaningful relationships, and entertainment through various Internet-related activities, this other behavior may at some point interfere with those online activities to an extent that it becomes a source of conflict and guilt. This syndrome, of course, is the incessant and seemingly uncontrollable tendency for some people to talk to one another, either one-on-one or in groups. It is suggested that we examine and classify a new syndrome, Communication Addiction Disorder. In the following, a case is presented outlining the evidence to suggest that such a disorder exists. Second, an overview follows of the negative uses to which talk is put and the deleterious effects that talk—even at moderate levels—may have on its users. Third, a general critique of some problems in diagnosing addictive or dependent behavior in the mediated and unmediated realms is outlined, arguing that five major problems must be addressed when considering addictive communication: a focus on media usage per se rather than the specific communication activities for which it is used; questionably appropriate diagnostics imported from non-comparable etiologies of addiction; the need to improve scaling and measurement strategies; and the presumption of superiority for one kind of communication over another. Finally, recommendations for future research are offered.