Internet Addiction Diagnosis and Assessment: Implications for Counselors

Article excerpt

The rapid development and increased availability of the Internet has led some researchers to examine the effects excessive usage has on an individual's social, emotional, cognitive, and physical development. Pathological Internet use has become more common in society. To address this concern Internet addiction has been added to the mental health lexicon. This article explores the development and history of Internet addiction. Research that has led to the development of the current diagnostic criteria and assessment considerations will be presented to educate counselors on the factors they need to explore should they suspect a client is excessively utilizing online applications. Implications for counseling practice are given to help further the understanding of how and why the Internet can become addictive

Internet Addiction Diagnosis and Assessment: Implications for Counselors

A 20-year old college student is accessing the local university's library to conduct an online literature review for a term paper in his history class.

A 14-year old high school freshman is instant messaging with her friends online about the latest school gossip.

A 31-year old woman searches the Internet for a particular recipe for that night's dinner.

A 17-year old is engaged in a world of mystery and intrigue as he navigates through the world of one of the countless interactive video games available online.

"The Internet is profoundly transforming our culture and our world in ways similar to the introduction of the telephone in the early twentieth century" (Schneider & Weiss, 2001; p. 4). For many people, the Internet has rapidly become a part of everyday life. Once a tool used primarily by researchers and professionals in the technology industry, the Internet is now used for educational, occupational, communicative, and entertainment purposes. The changes in functionality of the Internet continue to fuel questions as to its benefits and possible drawbacks (Pratarelli & Browne, 2002). Increased access to the Internet has led to an increase in the amount of time spent online. In a recent study, Nie and Erbring (2000) found that weekly Internet usage increased as the capacity for high speed Internet access has become more prevalent. The increase in online activity raises the questions "how much is too much?", "can the Internet become addictive?", and "what distinguishes normal usage, such as the examples above, from pathological usage?" How some people have come to use the Internet has become a cause for concern within the mental health community (Young, 1999). This article will present an expanding phenomenon known as Internet addiction and explain for counselors how to assess and diagnose the problem.

According to the latest figures released by research company Nielsen/Net Ratings (2006b) Internet usage amounts to nearly 28 hours per per person per week, including both home and work access. For some, their amount of Internet usage can become detrimental. Data from a growing body of anecdotal reports suggest that more and more people are becoming preoccupied with the Internet to the extent that they are reaching a point where they are unable to control their use. Uncontrollable usage has been shown to directly lead to social isolation, increased depression, familial discord, divorce, academic failure, financial debt, and loss of employment (Griffiths, 1997; Scherer, 1997; Shotton, 1991; Young, 1996). Current projections indicate that an estimated 205 million users in the United States now have access to the Internet (Neilsen/Net Ratings, 2006a). As this number grows, so too will the number of individuals developing psychological dependence to the Internet. Counselors need to be able to recognize, diagnose, and treat Internet addictions before they become completely unmanageable for their clients.

Internet Addiction Defined

Research into the potential problems brought about by increased Internet usage began in the early 1990s. …