Wired for Addiction?

Posted by: Dawn Schell on February 17, 2014 3:19 pm

The words “Internet addiction” (IA) seem to be tossed around quite freely these days. In the build-up to the release of the latest DSM (DSM-V) from the American Psychological Association I heard and read a lot of discussion about “Internet Addiction”.   There are some who wonder if this is a fad diagnosis that will fade away and think we ought to be careful about pathologizing this behaviour while others are sounding the alarm about how pervasive and damaging it is. In the end the APA chose not to include what they term ‘Internet Compulsive Disorder’ in the DSM-V.  They have however, listed it in Section III as “a condition warranting more clinical research and experience….”[1]

So what to call it?  In reviewing some of the research around the topic of Internet addiction I have come across a number of terms that are used instead of addiction:

Excessive absorption
Overly immersed[2]
Problematic Use
Compulsive Use

The authors of an article on the prevalence of IA amongst youth chose not to use the word “addiction” instead they talk about “…a potentially pathological behavioural pattern. It is denoted by the presence of the following symptoms: (i) a loss of control over the behaviour, (ii) conflict (internal and interpersonal), (iii) preoccupation with the Internet, (iv) using the Internet to modify mood, and (v) withdrawal symptoms.”[3]

This description comes from the Compulsive Internet Use Scale (Meerkerk et al., 2009[4]).

The research I have read suggests anywhere from 1.7 to close to 50% of youth are “addicted” to the Internet (using either the Compulsive Internet Use Scale or other tests).  Some studies indicate that males are three times as likely to have issues with Internet use as females.  There is also a body of research looking into the risk factors and links between issues such as social anxiety, depression, shyness, problem gambling, sexual issues, insomnia, school avoidance…the list goes on.  Another question being examined is – are these “addicts on the Internet”  or are these people who are “addicted to the Internet”.   There is a huge difference between these two that would have implications for treatment.[5]

In his Psychology Today article on IA, Dr. Drinka says “…Regardless of the underlying causes of these phenomena, we can say that the web now serves for some kids as a very new outlet for responding to the angst of adolescence…”

I don’t know if I would call it addiction but here’s what I’ve seen – youth who fall asleep in class because they have spent hours online playing games or using social media, youth who have social anxiety, who say they don’t need friends at school “cause I have them online” and stop attending school, youth whose grades are falling….to name a few. Of course it’s not just youth.  I know enough adults who neglect family, work and relationships in lieu of time online.  Still, it seems that youth and young adults are the ones who are most at risk.

I agree with the APA more research is needed.


Dawn M. Schell, MA, CCC, CCDP is an affiliate of Worldwide Therapy Online Inc.  http://www.therapyonline.ca

[3] Kuss, D. J., van Rooij, A. J., Shorter, G. W., Griffiths, M. D., & van de Mheen, D. (2013). Internet addiction in adolescents: Prevalence and risk factors. Computers in Human Behavior, 29, 1987-1996.

[4] Meerkerk, G. J., Van Den Eijnden, R., Vermulst, A. A., & Garretsen, H. F. L. (2009). The Compulsive Internet Use Scale (CIUS): Some psychometric properties. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 12(1), 1–6.

[5] I have not listed every article I read though I am happy to provide a list

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *