9.18.2008

Internet Addiction: A Valid Affliction?

Psychologists continue to debate the legitimacy of internet addiction and its worthiness of a place in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, due out in May 2012. Currently, the DSM-IV-TR does not include a section for addictions; substance abuse, its closest relative, exists on the first axis. Axis I disorders constitute mental illness, but the inclusion of internet addiction among them is a mistake because the internet itself is not an addiction, but a disguise for an existing disorder or an escape from boredom. In a hasty effort to pathologize human behavior, individuals attempt to shirk responsibility for their actions--diagnosing internet addiction would further enable this behavior. Although other countries recognize and treat internet addiction, this fascination should not be included in the DSM-V as an Axis I disorder, but instead, noted on the fourth axis as an environmental factor, only if a true Axis I disorder exists.

Superficially, surfing the internet for the majority of a day seems unhealthy and like an addiction, but other factors exist; excessive use may mask mental illness. Before reaching a conclusion, it is important to establish true addiction criteria: obsession with using the internet, tolerance and withdrawal symptoms, inability to limit use, and reliance on the internet to alter mood. But, the internet is not the abuser. The individual is not the victim (see left picture). According to media psychologist, Pamela Rutledge, "Like most addictions, Internet addiction is not about the Internet," but rather, it concerns the individual using the internet to the point of destruction within his or her own life. Those who use such internet activities to alter moods are exceptional candidates for an existing mental disorder, such as anxiety or depression. Regarding internet addiction as proven methodologically, Louise Nadeau, of Universite de Montreal's Department of Psychology, admits that "there is no reliable study or clinical data on the issue." To include internet addiction in the DSM-V on such a whim undermines the value of psychology as an empirical science.

By contrast, this lack of evidence may be irrelevant because the internet might simply be a functional way to complete work and a stimulating way to pass time. Because humans have an innate desire to avoid boredom, they enjoy using the internet because it offers endless possibilities for communication and information-gathering. With the internet's multi-functionality, one can complete a work e-mail, instant message a friend, and listen to an mp3 all simultaneously. If the internet were not used to complete these activities, the time spent doing each individually might actually exceed that in front of the computer. Additionally, if people could not use the internet, they would find other means of gaining access to what they want, for example excessive text messaging or video-game playing.

By rejecting these alternatives, a cycle governed by laws of behavioral psychology begins. One initially logs onto the internet to avoid boredom, and in turn, that avoidant behavior becomes positively reinforced by communication and entertainment, among others. Human behaviors work on this principle, though, so to call this an addiction is pathologizing regular human conduct. Normal behavior should not include withdrawal symptoms, yet a British online newspaper, MailOnline claims that an increase in blood pressure and brain activity do occur: "The stress of being disconnected [is] equivalent to that of running half an hour late for a key meeting, being about to sit an important exam or, in the worst cases, being sacked." This still seems normal. For example, if an individual is barred from the internet and experiences stress while expecting a work email, the stress really stems from the workplace and its expectations. The internet is simply an efficient means to finish overwhelming projects, like in the picture to the right. These studies on internet addiction must be examined skeptically; many studies are conducted to prove its harmful effects based on the agendas of psychologists who want to diagnose it as a disorder.

Instead of diagnosing internet addiction on the first axis, psychologists must make "internet abuse" more secondary. Because addictions do not currently exist as a category, psychologists would have to create one; this would further encourage future additions to an "addictions" category. Instead, to help preserve the integrity of the current DSM-IV-TR, psychologists could adopt a method of diagnosis whereby they would add "internet abuse" to the psychosocial and environmental axis IV. With this, they could still treat a patient for spending an unhealthy amount of time doing one thing, but it would put "the internet" in the background. This should only be used if there is in fact a true clinical diagnosis. For example, a psychologist diagnoses a patient with depression, spending an unhealthy amount of time watching tragic movies. Watching tragedies is arbitrary. The diagnosis is still depression whether the patient unhealthily manifests energy in watching tragedies, using the internet, or a plethora of other activities. No matter the activity, a psychologist would still try to train the patient in time management, coping skills, and productive ways to spend time.

Making "internet abuse" secondary would avoid a patient feeling the powerlessness that exists with axis I diagnoses. Upon receiving a diagnosis, one may feel less responsible for his or her actions; the likelihood of blaming behaviors or emotions on a psychosis heightens. Also, a self-fulfilling prophecy may emerge--a patient begins to act a certain way based on expectations of someone with that disorder. Dr. Jerald J. Block believes in diagnosing internet addiction and cites South Korea for considering it among its most problematic public health issues; 210,000 children ages 6-19 require treatment, and of those, 20% to 24% require hospitalization. By exaggerating this problem, children in South Korea will grow up to believe that they have a disease, so anything they become attached to in the future, the internet or otherwise, they can blame on "the disease." The older generation may not understand that the world is rapidly changing and that technology is a main component--"This is a media culture and to succeed in it, we have to know how to harness media technologies for our positive use and make peace with them," said Rutledge. Living in a "media culture", we must realize the importance of the internet, while still monitoring our activities and time spent doing them. Most importantly, if we take responsibility for our actions and use the internet as a helpful tool, we will seldom confuse it for a life-consuming monster.

2 comments:

Lisa said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Devon DeMars said...

Emily,

I really enjoyed reading your post about internet addiction and whether it should be considered a legitimate disorder. Being one who knows very little about psychology, addictions, or the scientific effects of internet use on human beings, I learned a lot about these issues and the surrounding debate.

On a superficial and visual level, your page is very pleasing and the colors and pictures seemed relevant. The picture of the wrists tied up by a computer mouse caught my interest and drew me into your post right away. It’s amazing what the use of visuals can do! On the other hand, I noticed the word “important” in the second paragraph was separated by the picture- maybe something to consider in the future though it had no significant impact on the reading of the words.

Your links also took me to interesting sources for more information, which I appreciate. It also makes your work more valid, as well as your appropriate inclusion of quotes.

In all, you made your thesis very clear and backed it up with how you think the situation should be handled. You’re idea of making “internet addiction” a secondary aspect of a disorder is interesting and had several valid points. Specifically, your thoughts that “internet addiction” is a mask for other greater disorders made a lot of sense once you explained it- I had never though of it like that before. You proved your point very well when you stated, “This should only be used if there is in fact a true clinical diagnosis. For example, a psychologist diagnoses a patient with depression, spending an unhealthy amount of time watching tragic movies. Watching tragedies is arbitrary. The diagnosis is still depression whether the patient unhealthily manifests energy in watching tragedies, using the internet, or a plethora of other activities. No matter the activity, a psychologist would still try to train the patient in time management, coping skills, and productive ways to spend time.” With that explaination, you made your point clear to someone who might not have heard any prior discussion on this topic, and therefore relateable and understandable to anyone, while remaining knowledgable and scholarly.

However, one thing I would like to see in the future would be an explaination of terms a layman might not be familiar with- such as the “Axis.” You included information about Axis I and Axis IV in the first paragraph though I could not successfully grasp your meaning. What is each axis and how are they categorized? What is their significance or purpose?

Thank you for your post I look forward to reading more of your blog in the future!

-Devon

 
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.