For several years now the popular media has liked to talk about people being “addicted” to the Internet. Indeed you will find that I have been interviewed several times about this “condition” and that my views have appeared in many articles on the topic. I have always cautioned people against thinking they are “addicted”.
Even though several schools of psychological and psychiatric thinking define addiction slightly differently, there is a common theme which helps clinicians determine whether or not someone is truly addicted to something. This is what happens on withdrawal of the addicted substance. If you take alcohol away from alcoholics they shake, for example. If you remove tobacco from cigarette addicts they become irritable, put on weight and find it difficult to sleep. If you stop gambling addicts from being able to bet they sweat a great deal and develop itchy skin. True addictions, like these, lead to physical and obvious changes. This is one of the ways that psychiatrists can use to assess whether their suspicions about someone being addicted are true – they can withdraw the substance and see if any symptoms arise.
If you take the Internet away from people who are supposedly addicted, there are no real symptoms produced. This suggests that “Internet addiction” is not a true addiction because withdrawal of the Internet from people who use it a lot is not a major issue.
There are hundreds of studies that talk about “Internet Addiction Disorder” (IAD). Indeed, back in 2012 I wrote that there was “proof that Internet Addiction does exist“. Research suggested that there were brain changes in people who were online for hours on end and that those changes were the same as those seen in addicts to other substances such as drugs. Also back in 2012, I wrote about “social media addiction” being more of a problem than cigarettes or alcohol.
However, all these studies about online addictions have flaws. They have, for instance, only handfuls of people, or there is bias in the choice of participants – amongst many other weaknesses. The popular media, of course, do not dissect the problems in such studies. But the American Psychiatric Association and the World Health Organisation do. They are the organisations that classify and codify mental health conditions and are the “bibles” by which psychiatrists and clinical psychologist work.
The latest “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual” from the American Psychiatric Association has just been published and it does NOT include “Internet Addiction” in spite of pressure from many researchers and some clinicians. Indeed, the DSM does not even include Internet addiction as a term “worthy of future research”.
In other words, having assessed all the research and data on this much-hyped condition, the APA has come to the conclusion that it does not exist. And they are not alone; the condition does not feature in the competing manual to DSM produced by the World Health Organisation, the International Classification of Disease (ICD).
So, sit back and use the Internet without fear – you cannot become addicted to it. However, you might be obsessed by it, you might fell compelled to use it – oh dear, I sense another debate coming on…does Internet OCD exist? Watch out for the headline in the Daily Mail soon…!