You cannot be addicted to the Internet

Psychiatrists are in an interesting position; their role is being threatened by the growth in clinical psychologists, therapists and a host of other health professionals who can treat certain psychological disorders. Earlier this week research was published which shows that cognitive behavioural therapy can have a lasting therapeutic impact. The trouble is CBT can be administered by therapists – you don’t have to be a psychiatrist to offer this “talking therapy”.

So, is it any wonder then that every so often psychiatrists attempt to get new disorders added to their Bible, the Diagnostics and Statistical Manual (DSM)? Earlier this year psychiatrists wanted “Internet Addiction” added to the DSM. Fantastic – get the word “addiction” into a diagnosis and it already implies you need medical intervention; enter the hero psychiatrist to the rescue.

OK, I’m being flippant I know, but to many of us who deal with the Internet day-in, day-out, the whole concept of Internet Addiction does seem somewhat over-egged. As I said in an article on Internet Addiction in March 2007, the evidence was exaggerated.

Now, a new “meta-analysis” looking at the past ten years of previous studies on Internet Addiction has concluded that much of the research that has provided the “evidence” is badly flawed. Indeed, it looks very much like that there is no such thing as Internet Addiction – despite what the psychiatrists’ manual might say.

It might well be possible to become addicted to online games, or to web-based family tree research, or to Internet research, but to be addicted to the Internet itself would be rather like saying we’re addicted to any other communications vehicle, such as speaking, or listening. Know any listening addicts, or letter writing addicts?

If the use of some part of the Internet is interfering with your daily living and withdrawing from that online activity causes physical symptoms in you, then there’s a chance you have a problem. But it looks like CBT could solve that anyway – so you don’t need a psychiatrist necessarily.

However, for most people who are emailing late at night, or Twittering away first thing in the morning, or poking people all day on Facebook, there is unlikely to be a problem. In fact, you’re quite normal.

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