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60-Second Mind

Internet Addiction?

As experts organize the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a debate has started on whether to include Internet addiction among our newest afflictions

[Below is the original script. But a few changes may have been made during the recording of this audio podcast.]

A quiet restaurant. Good wine. An animated conversation. Then, mid-sentence, you catch him steal a quick sideways downward glance at his BlackBerry. And the nickname "CrackBerry" comes to mind. You might think: for some, the Internet is an addiction.

Well, as psychology experts ramp up to publish the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a debate has begun on whether to include Internet addiction in the next big book of mental illness. This month the Canadian Medical Association Journal published an article weighing both sides.

Kimberly Young, director of The Center for Internet Addiction, says that while it might not be a well-defined illness, those who spend excessive amounts of time online suffer the same issues as other addicts, including lost jobs, broken marriages, or financial problems. Young says if it’s the cause of major issues in your life, then you have a problem.

But Vaughan Bell, at the department of neuroscience at King’s College London, says that the Internet is not an activity and so can’t be an addiction. He acknowledges that people can spend excessive time online, perhaps as an escape from depression or anxiety, but to label the use of the Web as the central problem or an addiction does a disservice. His concern is that the focus needs to be on the real illness, not on the “medium of communication.”

Of course, maybe some thought needs to be turned the many different activities one can do on the Web. Pornography and gambling, for instance, are well-known addictions.

In any event both Young and Bell admit that research on Internet addiction is limited and inconsistent, so far. And for that reason Bell says it will be tough to support its addition to the list of new afflictions.

—Christie Nicholson

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