In this series of articles I present my thinking and experience around internet addiction. This is informed by my own personal experience of addiction (first published in The Net and the Noose - Confessions of an Internet Addict, Shorrock (2014)) and my extensive professional experience as a psychotherapist, psychologist and academic researcher specialised in addiction.
Defining Internet addiction
As the World Wide Web grew in accessibility and popularity during the mid-1990’s, academics and researchers first started to publish reports revealing how the heavy use of the Internet was leading to clinical signs of addiction. Young (1996) had adapted the DSM-IV criteria for pathological gambling to measure this new phenomenon, after reviewing 600 cases of heavy Internet users. The same year, a psychiatrist, Ivan Goldberg, had coined the phenomena as a new ‘disorder’ after borrowing criteria from two other DSM-IV categories – impulse control and substance use disorders, giving rise to what was claimed as a brand new pathology, Internet Addiction Disorder [IAD] (Goldberg, 1996; Warden et al. 2004). Academic researchers noted the emergence of two schools of thought: those authors who are of the belief that Internet addiction warrants classification as a new or emerging psychiatric disorder in and of itself, and those who define certain individuals as having problematic Internet use in relation to specific online activities, such as social networking, gambling, or pornography (Yellowlees & Marks, 2005).
In acknowledgement of its increasing prevalence, the American Psychiatric Association (APA, 2000) has decided to introduce Internet addiction within the appendix of its latest Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders [DSM-V] (Block, 2008) whist giving serious consideration to its inclusion as a disorder in subsequent revised additions. More recently, the APA has proposed revisions of the DMS-V that involve subsuming certain subtypes of problematic Internet use under existing or ‘new’ disorders e.g. Internet Use disorder (such as substance addiction, but not a category). Or, diagnosticians would be able to categorise somebody commonly understood to have cybersex addiction utilising a ‘specific feature’ of Hypersexual Disorder (APA, 2010).
It is worth noting at this juncture, there are various conceptualisations of the significant distress or predicament associated with using the Internet and a host of terminology has been presented to label and define this relatively new phenomenon. The terms Internet Addiction Disorder (Goldberg, 1996), and Pathological Internet Use (Young 1996) were terms introduced in the same year. Both terms refer to a phenomenon that has since been described as “the compulsive overuse of the Internet and irritable and moody behaviour when deprived of it” (Mitchell, 2000, p.632). In a meta-synthesis of quantitative research, from 1996 – 2006, Byon et al. (2009) noted that IAD was then the most popular term used to define this phenomenon. However, other terms are prevalent in the literature, such as Problematic Internet Use [PIU] (Caplan, 2002; Goyette & Nadeau, 2008; Shapira, Goldsmith, Keck, Khosla, & McElroy, 2000). PIU was understood by Shapira et al. (2000) in terms of the functional impairment of daily activities and feelings of distress brought about by the person’s perception that they are unable to control their on-line dependence. Other terms evident in the literature include: Pathological Internet Use (Davis, 2001; Morahan-Martin & Schumacher, 2000); Compulsive Internet Use (Greenfield,1999; Widyanto & Griffiths, 2006); High Internet Dependency (Davis, Flett, & Besser, 2002; Hur, 2006); and Virtual Addiction (Greenfield, 1999). More recently, Greenfield (2011) has suggested that the most accurate labels are Internet-Enabled Compulsive Behaviour or Digital Media Compulsion, which account for the pervasive compulsive behaviour that can result from new and emerging Internet-enabled digital technologies, such as an iPhone. By and large, these terms have not been operationally defined by their authors, and so it is virtually impossible to ascertain whether they are referring to the same phenomena, or even in part. Maybe the latest edition of DiagnosticSM-5
References - Contact Dr Matthew Shorrock to request a full list of references contained within this post.
About the author:
Dr Matthew Shorrock is Clinical Director at the International Centre for Internet Addiction, offering face-to-face and online assessment and research services. Treatment programmes and clinics are also available at dedicated centres in Austria (Vienna) and the United Kingdom Manchester. Supervision, consultation and workshops are also available to health care professionals and organisations working with problematic internet use, supporting them in providing the best possible care - from prevention to 'cure'.
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