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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.[1] These terms avoid the distracting and divisive term addiction and are not limited to any single cause.

IAD was originally proposed as a disorder in a satirical hoax by Ivan Goldberg, M.D., in 1995.[2] He took pathological gambling as diagnosed by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) as his model for the description[3] of IAD. It is not however included in the current DSM as of 2009. IAD receives coverage in the press, and possible future classification as a psychological disorder continues to be debated and researched.

Online activities which, if done in person, would normally be considered troublesome, such as compulsive gambling or shopping, are sometimes called net compulsions.[4] Others, such as reading or playing computer games, are troubling only to the extent that these activities interfere with normal life. Supporters of disorder classification often divide IAD into subtypes by activity, such as excessive, overwhelming, or inappropriate pornography use,[5] gaming,[6] online social networking, blogging,[7] email[8], or Internet shopping.[9] Opponents note that compulsive behaviors may not themselves be addictive.[10]

Possible disorder

There is debate over whether to include "Internet Addiction" as a diagnosis in DSM-V, the next (May 2013) edition of the DSM. Some argue that Internet addiction disorder exists and should be included, and some that it is neither an addiction nor a specific disorder and should not be included in DSM-V.

In June 2007, the American Medical Association declined to recommend to the American Psychiatric Association that they include IAD as a formal diagnosis in DSM-V,[11] and recommended further study of "video game overuse."[12] Some members of the American Society of Addiction Medicine opposed identifying Internet overuse and video game overuse as disorders.[13] Among the research identified as necessary is to find ways to define "overuse" and to differentiate an "Internet addiction" from obsession, self-medication for depression or other disorders, and compulsion.

While the existence of Internet addiction is debated, self-proclaimed sufferers are resorting to the courts for redress. In one American case (Pacenza v. IBM Corp.), the plaintiff argued he was illegally dismissed from his employment in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act because of Internet addiction triggered by Vietnam War-related Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.[14][15] The case is pending before the court in the Southern District of New York (case summarized in Glaser & Carroll, 2007).


According to Maressa Orzack, director of the Computer Addiction Study Center at Harvard University's McLean Hospital, between 5% and 10% of Web surfers suffer some form of Web dependency.[16]

Another supporter, Jeremy Greenfield, Ph.D. of the Center for Internet Behavior conducted a study with ABC in 1999 and is author of Virtual Addiction. He believes that some services available over the Internet have unique psychological properties which induce dissociation, time distortion, and instant gratification, with about 6% of individuals experiencing some significant impact on their lives. However, he says it may not best be seen as an addiction but rather as a compulsion. Greenfield claims that sex, gaming, gambling, and shopping online can produce a mood-altering effect.

According to the Center for Internet Addiction Recovery (whose director is Kimberly S. Young,[17] a researcher who has lobbied for the recognition of net abuse as a distinct clinical disorder), "Internet addicts suffer from emotional problems such as depression and anxiety-related disorders and often use the fantasy world of the Internet to psychologically escape unpleasant feelings or stressful situations."[18] Over 60% of people seeking treatment for IAD claim involvement with sexual activities online which they consider inappropriate, such as excessive attention to pornography or involvement in explicit sexual conversations online.[19] More than half are also addicted to alcohol, drugs, tobacco, or sex.[18]

In 2008 Jerald J. Block, M.D.,[20] Hilarie Cash, PhD,[21] Kim McDaniel MA,[21] argued that Internet addiction should be included as a disorder in the DSM-V. Block observed that diagnosis was complicated because 86% of study subjects showing IA symptoms also exhibited other diagnosable mental health disorders.[20] A 2009 study suggested that brain structural changes were present in those classified by the researchers as Internet addicted, similar to those classified as chemically addicted.[22]

In his essay Internet Addiction: Does it Really Exist? Mark Griffiths states that “[t]he way of determining whether nonchemical (i.e., behavioral) addictions are addictive in a nonmetaphorical sense is to compare them against clinical criteria for other established drug-ingested addictions”, and although his data is dated, and may no longer represent average internet use accurately, Griffiths comes to the conclusion that the internet does meet that criteria for addiction in a small number of users.[23]


Psychiatrist Dr. Goldberg acknowledges that Internet addiction disorder is not a true addiction and may in fact be no more than a symptom of other, existing disorders.[24] An overbroad description of addiction leaves open the possibility of every compensatory behavior being declared an addiction. For example, a person who has lengthy telephone conversations with a friend to avoid an unpleasant situation could be declared "addicted to the telephone" with equal validity as a person who chats on the Internet with the same underlying goal.

Most, if not all "Internet addicts", already fall under existing diagnostic labels.[25] For many individuals, overuse or inappropriate use of the Internet is a manifestation of their depression, anxiety, impulse control disorders, or pathological gambling.[26] 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.

It is possible that a person could have a pathological relationship with a specific aspect of the Internet, such as bidding on online auctions, viewing pornography, online gaming, or online gambling (which is included under the existing Pathological Gambling), but that does not make the Internet medium itself addictive. For example,[27], whether gambling is done on a computer or face-to-face does not affect whether or not it is pathological; a person with poor impulse control can lose sleep over a suspenseful novel or favorite television show or a computer game or the temptation to click on another web link.

Also, there are significant and critical differences between common Internet activities (e-mail, chatting, web surfing) and pathological gambling, which the IAD notion heavily parallels. The Internet is largely a pro-social, interactive, and information-driven medium, while gambling is seen as a single, anti-social behavior that has very little social redeeming value. So-called Internet addicts do not suffer from the same damage to health and relationships that are common to established addictions.[25]

A complete review of the Internet addiction research at the end of 2008 (Byun et al., 2008) demonstrated significant, multiple flaws in most studies in this area. The researchers wrote in that article, "The analysis showed that previous studies have utilized inconsistent criteria to define Internet addicts, applied recruiting methods that may cause serious sampling bias, and examined data using primarily exploratory rather than confirmatory data analysis techniques to investigate the degree of association rather than causal relationships among variables."[28] This suggests that much of the prior research done on this issue is invalid.[citation needed]


The prevalence of IAD can be attributed to the fact that it has become increasingly difficult to distinguish between the online and offline worlds. The Internet has tremendous potential to affect the emotions of humans and in turn, alter our self-perception and anxiety levels.[29]

25% of users fulfill Internet addiction criteria within the first six months of using the Internet. Many individuals initially report feeling intimidated by the computer but gradually feel a sense of "competency and exhilaration from mastering the technology and learning to navigate the applications quickly by visual stimulation" (Beard 374). The feeling of exhilaration can be explained by the way IAD sufferers often describe themselves as: bold, outgoing, openminded, intellectually prideful, and assertive.[30]

The Ottawa Sun reports that a 1996 report in the UK "Advances in Psychiatric Treatment" claimed that a "significant minority" suffer from "Internet addiction".[31]

Up to 30% of South Koreans under 18, or about 2.4 million people, are at risk of Internet addiction, said Ahn Dong-hyun, a child psychiatrist at Hanyang University in Seoul who just completed a three-year government-financed survey of the problem.[32]

Data from China Internet Network Information Center (CINIC), as of June 30, 2006, showed that 123 million people had gone online, of which 14.9% were teenagers below 18 years old. Chou and Hsiao reported that the incidence rate of Internet addiction among Taiwan college students was 5.9%.[33] Wu and Zhu[34] identified 10.6% of Chinese college students as Internet addicts.[35]

The China Communist Youth League claimed in 2007 that over 17% of Chinese citizens between 13 and 17 are addicted to the Internet.[36]

Prevention and correction

In many cases, though not all, Internet overuse corrects itself. Sarah Kershaw wrote for the New York Times in 2005: "It was Professor Kiesler who called Internet addiction a fad illness. In her view, she said, television addiction is worse. She added that she was completing a study of heavy Internet users, which showed the majority had sharply reduced their time on the computer over the course of a year, indicating that even problematic use was self-corrective."[37]

Corrective strategies include content-control software, counseling, and cognitive behavioural therapy.[38][39][40][41]

Families in China have turned to unlicensed training camps that offer to "wean" their children, often in their teens, from overuse of the Internet. The training camps have been associated with the death of at least one youth.[42]

In August 2009, ReSTART, a residential treatment center for "pathological computer use", opened near Seattle, Washington, United States.[43] It offers a 45-day program intended to help people wean themselves from pathological computer use, and can handle up to six patients at a time.[44]

In November 2009, the government in China banned physical punishment to "wean" teens from the Internet. Electro-shock therapy had already been banned.[45]

See also


  1. Byun, S; S. Byun, C. Ruffini, J. Mills, A. Douglas, M. Niang, S. Stepchenkova, S. Lee, J. Loutfi, J. Lee, M. Atallah, M. Blanton (April 10, 2009). "Internet Addiction: Metasynthesis of 1996–2006 Quantitative Research". Cyberpsychology & Behavior 12 (2): 203–7. doi:10.1089/cpb.2008.0102. ISSN 1557-8364. PMID 19072075.
  2. Internet Addiction? August 8, 1997
  3. "Internet Addictive Disorder (IAD)Diagnostic Criteria". Retrieved 2009-01-31.
  4. Types of Internet addiction?[dead link]
  5. "Internet addiction Disorder: The Mind Prison-types". Retrieved 2009-08-09.
  6. "Internet addiction Disorder: The Mind Prison-types 2". Retrieved 2009-11-11.
  7. "Internet addiction Disorder: The Mind Prison-types 4". Retrieved 2009-11-11.
  8. Turel, O. & Serenko, A. (2010). "Is mobile email addiction overlooked?". Communications of the ACM 53 (5): 41–43.
  9. eBay Addiction[dead link]
  10. "Why Internet Addiction Still Doesn’t Exist". Retrieved 2009-09-15.
  11. Video Games No Addiction For Now June 26, 2007
  12. Phạm, Alex (2007-06-22). "Medical association backs off labeling 'video-game addiction'". Los Angeles Times (Tribune Company): p. C1.
  13. Experts: Video games not an addiction June 25, 2007
  14. "Internet Addiction: The Next Disability". LRP Publications. February 28, 2007. Retrieved 2009-01-31.
  16. jeremy yasmin (2005-09-05). "This Is Your Brain on Clicks.". Forbes. Retrieved 2007-07-17.
  17. Young, K. (2009). Issues for Internet Addiction as a New Diagnosis in the DSM-V. Washington, District of Columbia, US: American Psychological Association. Retrieved from PsycEXTRA database.
  18. 18.0 18.1 "Frequently Asked Questions". Retrieved 2009-08-09.[dead link]
  19. "Cybersex/Cyberporn Addiction". Retrieved 2009-08-09.[dead link]
  20. 20.0 20.1 "Issues for DSM-V: Internet Addiction". March 2008. Retrieved January 31, 2009.
  21. 21.0 21.1 Video Games and Your Kids: How Parents Stay in Control
  22. Zhou, Y., Lin, F., Du, Y., Qin, L., Zhao, Z., Xu, J., & Lei, H. (2009). Gray matter abnormalities in Internet addiction: A voxel-based morphometry study. European Journal of Radiology. doi: 10.1016/j.ejrad.2009.10.025
  23. Griffiths, Mark. "Internet Addiction: Does It Really Exist?" Psychology and the Internet: Intrapersonal, Interpersonal, and Transpersonal Applications. Ed. J. Gackenbach. New York: Academic Press, 1998. 61-75.
  24. "Experts debate Internet addiction". 2006-11-14. Retrieved 2009-08-09.
  25. 25.0 25.1 Hooked on the Web: Help Is on the Way
  26. Press Releases #4 at[dead link]
  27. Press Release #4 at[dead link]
  28. Byun, S; Sookeun Byun, Celestino Ruffini, Juline E. Mills, Alecia C. Douglas, Mamadou Niang, Svetlana Stepchenkova, Seul Ki Lee, Jihad Loutfi, Jung-Kook Lee, Mikhail Atallah, Marina Blanton (April 10, 2009). "Internet Addiction: Metasynthesis of 1996–2006 Quantitative Research". Cyberpsychology & Behavior 12 (2): 203–7. doi:10.1089/cpb.2008.0102. ISSN 1557-8364. PMID 19072075.
  29. Horstman, Judith (2009). The Scientific American Day in the Life of your Brain.
  30. "Modification in the proposed diagnostic criteria for Internet Addiction". Cyberspychology & Behavior 4 (3). June 1, 2009.
  31. Sharon Kirkey (2007). "Recognize Internet addiction as a mental illness". Internet addiction. The Ottawa Citizen. Retrieved 2008-05-07.
  32. Martin Fackler (2007-11-18). "In Korea, a Boot Camp Cure for Web Obsession". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-05-07.
  33. C. Chou and M.C. Hsiao (2002). "Internet addiction, usage, gratification, and pleasure experience: the Taiwan college students' case". Comput Educ 35 (2000): 65–80.
  34. H.R. Wu and K.J. Zhu (2004). "Path analysis on related factors causing Internet addiction disorder in college students". Chin J Public Health 20: 1363–1364.
  35. Fenglin Cao, Linyan Su, TieQiao Liu and Xueping Gao - The 2nd Xiangya Hospital of Central South University, No. 139 Renmin Road, Changsha, Hunan 410011, P.R. China (2007). "The relationship between impulsivity and Internet addiction in a sample of Chinese adolescents". European Psychiatry. Retrieved 2008-05-07.
  36. 17% Of Youth Addicted To Internet January 11, 2007
  37. Hooked on the Web: Help Is on the Way
  38. "University of Notre Dame Counceling Center, "Self help - Lost in Cyberspace"". Retrieved 2009-11-11.
  39. "Preventions". Retrieved 2009-11-11.
  40. "Post-treatments". Retrieved 2009-11-11.
  41. "Self-help strategies". Retrieved 2009-11-11.
  42. Krajnak, Deb (2009-08-19). "China probe of abuse at Web addiction camp". CNN. Retrieved 2009-08-20.
  43. GERANIOS, NICHOLAS K. (September 3, 2009). ""Internet addiction center opens in US"".
  44. "Internet addiction center opens in US". 2009-09-07. Retrieved 2009-11-11.
  45. "China bans physical punishment for Internet addicts". Reuters India. November 5, 2009. Retrieved 2009-11-11.

Further reading

  • Block, J.J. (2008). "Issues for DSM-V: Internet Addiction". American Journal of Psychiatry. 165:3; March 2008; p. 306-307.
  • Byun, S., et al. (2008). Internet Addiction: Metasynthesis of 1996–2006 Quantitative Research. Cyberpsychology & Behavior, 12, 1-5.available online
  • Caruso, D. (1998). Critics Pick Apart Study on Internet and Depression. available online.
  • Chopra, D. (1997). Overcoming Addictions. New York: Harmony Books.
  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition. (1994). Washington D.C.: American Psychiatric Association.
  • Dowling, N. A., & Quirk, K. L. (2008). Screening for Internet Dependence: Do the Proposed Diagnostic Criteria Differentiate Normal from Dependent Internet Use? CyberPsychology & Behavior , 12 (1), 1.
  • Garcia Duran, M. (2003, December 14). Internet Addiction Disorder. Allpsych .
  • Grohol, J. M. (1999). Internet Addiction Guide. Psych Central available online.
  • Hansen, S. (2002). "Excessive Internet usage or 'Internet Addiction'? The implications of diagnostic categories for student users." Journal of Computer Assisted Learning 18(2) pp. 232–236.
  • Padilla-Walker, L.M., Nelson, L.J., Carroll, J.S. & Jensen, A.C. (2009). More than just a game: Video game and Internet use during emerging adulthood. Journal of Youth and Adolescence. DOI 10.1007/s10964-008-9390-8.pdf *requires login at BYU*
  • Potera, C. (1998). "Trapped in the Web?" Psychology Today, Mar/Apr 98, 31(2) pp. 66–70.
  • Quinn, M. J. (2009). Ethics for the Information Age (3rd ed.). (M. Hirsch, Ed.) Boston: Pearson.
  • University, T. A. (2007, August 18). What exactly is 'Internet Addiction; and What is the Treatment? Science Daily .
  • Surratt, Carla G (1999). Netaholics? : the creation of a pathology Commack, NY : Nova Science Publishers.
  • Welch, E. T. (2001). Addictions: a Banquet in the Grave. Phillipsburg, Pennsylvania: P & R Publishing.
  • Young, Kimberly S. (2001). Caught in the Net: How to Recognize the Signs of Internet Addiction—and a Winning Strategy for Recovery
  • Zur, O. & Zur, A. (2009). On Digital Immigrants & Digital Natives. Zur Institute available online

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