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Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) – Compulsion or Addiction?

No doubt you’ve heard something about “internet addiction.” To some, it might seem like a joke or exaggeration. But, infact, more and more people are turning to the Internet or other similar types of media in an excessive, life-altering manner. But the real question is–is IAD an addiction or more of a coping method to deal with other mental health problems?

From wikipedia: “Internet addiction disorder (IAD), or, more broadly, Internet overuse, problematic computer use or pathological computer use, is excessive computer use that interferes with daily life. These terms avoid the distracting and divisive term addiction and are not limited to any single cause.” IAD started as a mythical disorder that was based off of the newly diagnosable gambling addiction in 1995.

Supporters of disorder classification often divide IAD into subtypes by activity:
• excessive viewing of pornography
• overwhelming and excessive gaming
• inappropriate involvement in online social networking sites or blogging
• Internet shopping addiction

Some supporters of IAD would like to see this type of addiction added to the next version of the DSM-V, which will be released in 2012. Before this happens, though, IAD needs to be better defined to see if it’s more of a obsession, compulsion, or self-medication for mental problems like depression. People who suffer from IAD hope to be considered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (in fact, one case is currently pending where a man claims his IAD is in response to PTSD).

Supporters in the medical community believe that IAD affects a person because it alters their mood a lot like other addictions, and that change in body chemistry can become addictive. They tend toward classifying IAD as a compulsion or as a psychological escape (because it is often triggered by anxiety or stressful situation).

Oppositions come from those who believe that the internet is a social environment, which can’t really cause a person to be addicted. (You can’t be addicted to your hometown, for example). “For many patients, overuse or inappropriate use of the Internet is merely a manifestation of their depression, anxiety, impulse control disorders, or pathological gambling. IAD is compared to food addiction, in which patients overeat as a form of self-medication for depression, anxiety, etc., without actually being truly addicted to eating.”

I read about a brand new treatment center was started in the US to treat IAD. “reStart Internet Addiction Recover Program” offers a 45-day treatment that’s “designed specifically to help internet and video game addicts overcome their dependence on gaming, gambling, chatting, texting and other aspects of internet addiction.” The center says that about 6-10% of all internet-users are actually dependent upon it. The center believes that the US is slow in its recognition and treatment of internet-related addictions and dangers. The center also claims that China and South Korea have designated internet addiction as their “number one public health danger.” The treatment costs $14,500 per person and no insurance company will cover it (yet).

What do you think? Do you feel your internet/technology use is out of hand? Is IAD an addition or a compulsion? Can we prevent more people from developing IAD or is this our next potential health crisis? Join the conversation.

  • LPS

    Hi Amanda. This is a very interesting concept. I'm not sure that IAD or "Internet addiction disorder" is defined as such. To me, there are people with significant gambling and shopping addictions. Whether they do them on or offline, I'm not sure the correlation. Has there been research?

  • Amanda

    Hi LPS, thanks for your comment 🙂 I'm curious what exactly you mean by "IAD is defined as such." Is the word "addiction" where you're getting stuck? Because that's definitely where doctors and scientists are stuck too!

    Everything I've read on this seems to say that IAD is simply another way to self-medicate. Just as, say, someone with a mental illness or chemical imbalance might turn to eating, sleeping, or possibly recreational drugs/drinking as a way to "cope" or, really, just feel better (numb or less emotional). In this way IAD is a compulsion, a go-to remedy that has instant effects upon the user. So, if someone were to "cope" via gambling or shopping (as, I think, many do) – I would think they would be nearly interchangeable. In the article I read, IAD was classified into several categories – two of which were online gambling and online shopping. (Others were gaming and porn).

    As far as the "addiction" part – I think the claim is that, for internet "addicts" there is a physical rush they get from being online or using the computer (so whatever it is that they usually do online is what "gets" them: gambling, shopping, chatting or otherwise.) That they feel physically "high" from doing their online activity of choice. And because of this high, they get addicted in the same way that others do to chemicals like drugs/alcohol. They need that physical "rush" and often push harder to achieve it (more and more time online, playing harder RPGs, etc).

    As far as online gambling or shopping addictions – I would assume it's a lot like in real life addition to either, just made easier. If a person gets that "rush" from gambling (whether it's a compulsion and used as a way to cope or whether it produces the chemical high), I would assume they feel the same way about online gambling. Because, at least for those who are heavy internet-users, the internet is really just an extension of real life. Shopping and gambling online is easier than going outside but still produces similar results – so this might be, I think, the preferred "addiction" for those who suffer from social anxiety disorder or any physically limiting illness (chronic pain, et al).

    I think "IAD" is just the broader term and that gambling, shopping, playing games, chatting, looking at porn, etc are the actual categories of addiction/compulsion. I hesitate to say too much more about it since I'm definitely no expert. But "addictions" seem almost as unique as the person who is "addicted." What makes you feel better or gets you high is different than what might do it for me, etc. Taste, mental association, personal history, body chemical reactions, and probably genetics are likely to "blame" for what your vice/addiction/habit/compulsion is. (But this is still being researched. Ie: Why do certain OCD sufferers count vs. clean vs. hoard? No one really knows exactly why one person goes for one coping method over another.)

    But, like you, I'm waiting for more research. If I find anything I will post it here 🙂

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