Addicted to the Web; Excessive Use of the Internet Can Hurt Health, Relationships

Article excerpt

Byline: Shelley Widhalm, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

There is a fine line between using the Internet to look up a few facts, socialize or play some games and being obsessed with or addicted to it, says Kent Norman, associate professor of psychology at the University of Maryland in College Park.

"You don't have to worry about being an Internet addict if you're spending some time on the Internet. It is a clinical addiction when it becomes totally consuming and you're losing your job, your friends and family and your health because of it," says Mr. Norman, who holds a doctorate in experimental psychology.

Internet addiction disorder does not exist as an official category, like addiction to food, drugs or alcohol, but as a subset of behavioral addictions of constantly wanting to engage in certain behaviors, Mr. Norman says.

"This behavior is maladaptive or pathological because of the symptoms it generates," he says. "If somebody is addicted to a particular behavior, it takes control over their lives."

Whether or not Internet addiction disorder should be considered a mental disorder in a separate diagnostic category is up for debate. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, DSM-IV, published by the American Psychiatric Association, does not include Internet addiction disorder in the list of categories and criteria for diagnosing mental disorders.

The research that has been done so far on Internet addiction disorder - a term proposed about 10 years ago - is not based on solid empirical evidence that supports the disorder as being unique and valid, says John Grohol, publisher of Psychcentral.com, an educational Web site based in Boston that focuses on mental health issues. He is a member of the American Psychological Association (APA), headquartered in Northeast.

"It's an adjustment disorder," says Mr. Grohol, who holds a doctorate in psychology. "The Internet is a new technology. It takes people time to acclimate to new technologies."

The behaviors associated with Internet addiction disorder will lessen as Internet users acclimate to the technology and learn to put their use of it in perspective, Mr. Grohol says.

"As they learn how it fits in their lives, most people tend to taper off their online time," he says. "I don't disagree that there [is] a set of people out there who spend too much time online. It's a problematic behavior, but it shouldn't be a unique diagnostic behavior."

Giving the behavior a label is premature when it is not clear exactly what is involved with Internet addiction disorder, says David Greenfield, APA member and director of the Center for Internet Behavior, a division of the Healing Center LLC in West Hartford, Conn. The center provides consulting, training and research on the negative behaviors that may result from Internet abuse and addiction.

"In a sense, the Internet is a new form of mood-altering behavior," says Mr. Greenfield, who holds a doctorate in psychology. He is assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine and author of "Virtual Addiction: Help for Netheads, Cyberfreaks, and Those Who Love Them. …