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Can you be addicted to the internet?

Asked by Ian Anderson of Aberdeen, Scotland

Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) is one of the new psychopathologies of the internet era.

The first mention of "internet addiction" was in a 1996 paper by Drs O.Egger and M Rauterberg of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne.

The first case of IAD in the clinical literature was presented by Dr KS Young of the Department of Psychology at the University of Pittsburgh campus in Bradford, Pennsylvania and appears in the February 1997 Psychological Reports. Bradford is now the home of the Centre for Internet Addiction.

The case concerns a 43-year-old housewife who was addicted to the internet yet who otherwise had no prior history of any other psychiatric problem.

It is unknown how many people suffer from IAD. There are several symptoms of IAD. These include:

  • A need for an ever increasing amount of time on the internet to achieve satisfaction or a dissatisfaction with the continued use of the same amount of time on the internet.
  • Two or more withdrawal symptoms developing within days, weeks, or up to a month after a reduction or cessation of internet use. These include distress or impairment of social, personal, or occupational functioning such that there is psychological or psychomotor agitation such as anxiety, restlessness, irritability, trembling, tremors, voluntary or involuntary typing movements of the fingers, obsessive thinking, fantasies, or dreams about the internet.
  • Internet engagement to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.
  • Internet often accessed more often or for longer periods of time than was intended.
  • A significant amount of time is spent in activities related to internet use (for example, internet surfing).
  • Important social, occupational, or recreational activities eliminated or reduced due to internet use.
  • Risk of loss of a significant relationship, job, educational, or career opportunity due to excessive internet use.
  • Internet engagement used as a way of escaping problems or relieving feelings of guilt, helplessness, anxiety, or depression.
  • Concealing from or lying to family members about the extent of internet use.
  • Internet user driven to financial difficulty due to incurring unaffordable internet fees.

Stephen Juan, Ph.D. is an anthropologist at the University of Sydney. Email your Odd Body questions to s.juan@edfac.usyd.edu.au

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