More Americans are seeking treatment for Internet "addiction"—but some experts say that labeling excessive Internet use as a disease could lead to overmedication and other negative consequences, Clare Foran reports for The Atlantic.
The field of Internet addiction treatment is in a "medical gray area," Foran writes. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) does not list Internet addiction as an official diagnosis.
Growing demand for recovery programs
However, some mental health practitioners do believe excessive attachment to the online world should be considered an addiction when Internet use has a significant and negative effect on individuals' daily lives, including their health, relationships, or work. And China and South Korea see Internet addiction as a threat to public health.
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According to Foran, most people who seek treatment at programs that claim to combat Internet addiction say they cannot stop themselves from constantly playing video games online. The booming industry also sees individuals who say they have a compulsive need to regularly read Reddit, watch YouTube clips, or check Facebook and Instagram.
Some experts believe that Internet addiction will eventually be widely accepted as a diagnosis in the United States, and say that could make treatment more accessible and cause more insurers to reimburse for such care.
But for now, the field of treating excessive attachment to the Internet "is the frontier. It's a little like the wild, wild west," says Jason Calder, a clinical mental health counselor and director of an addiction recovery program.
Many recovery programs begin with support groups and detox. And Calder's organization also works to spot any underlying mental health issues that could be leading to excessive Internet use.
'A slippery slope'
But some mental health experts urge caution. "The fact that we have treatment programs doesn't necessarily mean that it's really an addiction," notes Charles O'Brien, the founding director of the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Studies of Addiction.
And experts also warn that that labeling excessive Internet use as "addiction" could lead to unnecessary medication, stigma, and a trend of other activities being referred to as pathologies.
"It's a slippery slope," says Allen Frances, chair of task force for the DSM's forth revision and a psychiatry professor emeritus at Duke University. "When you turn people's passions and interests into mental disorders, you start to define what’s normal and what's not" (Foran, The Atlantic, 11/5).
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