Internet addiction is currently not included in the DSM-IV as a formal disorder. Some experts agree that it is a compulsive behavior; therefore, not necessarily an addiction. Others see it as an undesirable or troublesome behavior since it takes away time from more important activities, such as sleep, work, eating, and family. Excessive behaviors online can include visiting adult-oriented sites, gaming, online social networking, blogging, email, or shopping. It could be argued that any excessive behavior that interferes with life activities is and addiction, so it seems that it is just how Internet overuse is named that is in question.
Many compulsive behaviors, Internet overuse included, may be a manifestation of another disorder like depression, anxiety, or impulse control disorders. The Internet might be just a convenient way to view adult-oriented sites, gamble, or compulsively shop, as these things can be done offline as well. It also makes it difficult to distinguish between online and offline worlds because it is easy to adopt another anonymous persona, especially when it comes to fantasy living in virtual worlds. It can also be an escape from real life as in other behaviors like alcoholism, drug abuse, and overeating. With people spending increasing amounts of time on Facebook and in chat rooms, it is easy to lose track of time, which can cause problems at work and with family relationships. The Internet makes it easy to meet new people and offers many diversions from the comfort of the office chair. It is an instant fix for boredom, depression, or loneliness.
Personally, I think it depends on the individual as to whether an Internet addiction is present. Children that are not working on a project at school and anyone who spends hours on Facebook or just chatting may indeed have a problem. However, many people depend on the Internet now for news, movies, correspondence, communication, and buying items that they cannot get where they live. Many people also work online or work from home using the Internet. There are people who use the Internet exclusively for research and computer programmers who might use the Internet to download software or look up a piece of code. Several articles define Internet addiction as growing across the world; there is talk that it will be included in the DSM-5.
In the meantime, there are several symptoms you can ask yourself or ponder about your loved ones regarding Internet addition: inability to cut down Internet usage; thinking constantly about using the Internet; feeling irritable or hostile when not online; staying online increasing amounts of time; lying to loved ones about your extent of Internet usage; being happy only while online; and physical symptoms such as insomnia, withdrawal from other activities, and neglect of regular life tasks, family, and friends; carpal tunnel, backaches, or headaches; change in eating habits. Remember to individualize these symptoms to the person; they might have a new online job or a project to do.
It seems that Internet addiction is probably like any other addiction. If you do nothing else but stay online, then you just might have a problem, and likewise for neglecting real-life tasks and relationships. If your child's grades are slipping because of Internet use, this could indicate a problem. If you are an adult and meet someone online, be very careful that they are who they say they are. If you arrange to meet, tell someone where you are going, bring your cell phone, and meet in a very public place. Have important numbers programmed into your cell phone. Do not be alone with the person until you get to know them. People lie about their online identities all the time to scam people, or worse, harm them in a physical way.
The Internet can be a fun, educational, and productive tool if it is not abused. With a little common sense, you can figure out whether you and your loved ones' Internet usage is excessive. If there is a problem, get help from reputable sources like psychologists, psychiatrists, or counselors. There may also be community groups in your location that can help. ReSTART is a new residential treatment center specializing in technology-related behavioral addictions, in Fall City, Washington. There are also many types of software that will limit Internet activities and sites for every operating system. Just with any other activity, the main thing to remember is to stay safe, have fun, and know when to log off.