Know someone who spends way too much time on the Internet playing online games? What about someone who must check their list of sites at appointed times for fear of missing that vital email or must-read news story?
Well, Web addiction is on its way to being classified as a mental illness now that “Internet Use Disorder” has been added to the latest edition of the freshly revised Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM-V) for 2013.
However, Internet Use Disorder comes with a caveat – clinicians warn that the phenomenon of Internet addiction needs more study.
Still, there is evidence enough to suggest that unfettered and unhealthy use of the Internet should be a concern.
What are the symptoms of Internet Use Disorder?
Internet Use Disorder or IUD presents itself in many ways that are standard for addiction. Symptoms include but are not limited to:
- A “preoccupation” with the Internet or Internet gaming
- Withdrawal symptoms when no longer able to access the Internet
- An increasing tolerance to the stimuli which means they require more time and greater Internet use in order to achieve the same high
- A loss of other interests
- Using the Internet to replace or make up for a lack of human relationships
- Failed attempts at quitting their Internet overuse
- Using the Internet as a tool to escape or improve general depression and sadness
While rare in adults, those children suffering from Internet Use Disorder have been known to become angry and violent when their supply of Internet time is interrupted. We have also heard scare stories about young people dying during marathon online gaming sessions because they developed fatal DVT.
While there have been reservations about officially classing Internet Use Disorder as an actual mental illness, recent studies, including this one published in 2011, have also shown there are physical changes in the brains of adolescents suffering from what would be termed an Internet or online gaming addiction — and these changes are remarkably similar to those presented in the brains of adolescent drug users.
There is also evidence to suggest that Internet addiction could impact dopamine and dopamine receptors in the brain.
When it Comes to the Internet, How Much is Too Much?
Perhaps one of the reasons why Internet Use Disorder has been quite controversial is that, while adolescent online gaming may be an extreme example, more subtler forms of addiction — and whether it is an addiction at all — could be much harder to spot.
At what point does addiction kick in? And what constitutes “unhealthy” use? For instance, for the elderly the Internet may be a welcome means through which to connect to loved ones and by which they might maintain their independence, having at their fingertips the means to order their shopping, pay their bills and interact with communities they would otherwise be cut off from.
When we throw out the extreme scare stories, the litmus test seems to be if we or others detect that our Internet use has become obsessive or is detrimental to other areas of our lives and our relationships.
Loving your Internet games and online interactions is a passion then. Using technology and the Internet to fill a void would appear to be where it becomes dangerous.
This and further symptoms of Internet Use Disorder is what further study will illuminate.
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