There’s been a lot of controversy about some of the maladies included in the freshly revised Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM-V). Internet addiction, or formally, Internet Use Disorder (IUD), may soon be included as an actual mental health disorder, although the authors do say it still needs a lot of additional study. So what are the symptoms of IUD, and maybe more importantly for those of us flirting with it, what’s the treatment?
Internet Use Disorder has the many of the basic hallmarks of any other addiction. According to the American Psychiatric Association, the crafters of the DSM-V, a person with IUD will experience “preoccupation” with the internet or internet gaming, withdrawal symptoms when the substance (internet) is no longer available, tolerance (the need to spend more and more time on the internet to achieve the same “high”), loss of other interests, unsuccessful attempts to quit, and use of the internet to improve or escape dysphoric mood.
There’s been more and more scientific research devoted to understanding what IUD is, how it works neurologically, and how we can treat it. Research has shown that people with internet addiction have demonstrable changes in their brains – both in the connections between cells and in the brain areas that control attention, executive control, and emotion processing. Most intriguing is the fact that many of these changes are what you see happening in the brains of people addicted to cocaine, heroine, special K, and other substances.
If we accept that internet addiction or IUD is a legitimate mental health disorder, then what? How bad does it have to get before you get treatment, and for that matter, what is the treatment?
How to treat internet addiction is then the next question. One might suspect that treatment won’t be straightforward, since most of us have to use the internet at some level (or even a lot) throughout the day. In this way, it’s a bit like food addiction, which they say is the hardest to treat, since you can’t just quit the substance, you have to actually learn how to manage it. And for many people, managing is harder than quitting.
Some studies have found that cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) might be an effective method to treat IUD. This form of psychotherapy teaches people how to replace the damaging thought and behavior patterns that plague them with healthier, more productive ones. When people with internet addiction were taught how to apply CBT to their internet use problems, they reported improved well being and less of the offending behavior, internet use.
Researchers will keep trying to learn about what’s going on with our internet use these days, and how we can get a handle on it before it gets out of control. We’ll certainly keep apprised of the developments on internet addiction research (probably by combing the internet), and the best ways to manage it.
After going through all these facts, I think I might have a mental health disorder or simply internet addiction.
This article was originally written by Alice G. Walton for Forbes.