New Scientist tells us that some psychiatric professionals are pushing for inclusion of “Internet addiction” as a specific disorder:
In the American Journal of Psychiatry, psychiatrist Jerald Block of Portland, Oregon, argues that internet addiction should be included in the next version of DSM, the US handbook of recognised psychiatric conditions, which is currently being drawn up. The condition is characterised by excessive use of the internet, anger or depression if computer access is lost, poor achievement and social isolation.
Dr Block’s American Journal of Psychiatry editorial gives more detail:
Internet addiction appears to be a common disorder that merits inclusion in DSM-V. Conceptually, the diagnosis is a compulsive-impulsive spectrum disorder that involves online and/or offline computer usage and consists of at least three subtypes: excessive gaming, sexual preoccupations, and e-mail/text messaging. All of the variants share the following four components: 1) excessive use, often associated with a loss of sense of time or a neglect of basic drives, 2) withdrawal, including feelings of anger, tension, and/or depression when the computer is inaccessible, 3) tolerance, including the need for better computer equipment, more software, or more hours of use, and 4) negative repercussions, including arguments, lying, poor achievement, social isolation, and fatigue.
It seems to me that all forms of addiction share those basic components. What is addiction, if not “excessive use” — of the Internet, of alcohol, of sex, of television, of work...? Similarly, people addicted to any of those things experience withdrawal symptoms, develop tolerance and require more stimulation for satisfaction, and have their lives negatively affected by their addictions.
Also, as I look at Dr Block’s descriptions of the problems associated with widespread Internet addiction, I see a pattern similar to those associated with other forms of addiction — with one notable difference being how seriously it’s affecting very young children (thought TV has a similar issue). In other words, I see most types of addiction as being substantially similar.
Further, it seems that people often drift from one addiction to another. Someone who used to spend his life in a game arcade might since have switched to video games on his computer, then to multiplayer online games, then to social networking, and so on. Availability of new mechanisms — or removal of old ones — might change the specific addiction, but not the fact that the person is an addict.
So does it really make sense to list X addiction and Y addiction and Z addiction as separate disorders? It seems more sensible to me — as someone who is not a psychiatric professional, of course, so what do I know? — to have “Addiction” as a diagnosis, perhaps with subcategories of “Substance Addiction” for things like alcohol and other drugs, and “Social Addiction” for things like TV, Internet, and sex. The specific addictions could then be discussed, and listed in the patient’s diagnosis, as manifestations of the addiction.