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Ask the Mental Health Expert Archives 2001-2004

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Internet Related Disorders

Q. Is there an information resource dealing specifically with emerging online/Internet related disorders?

A. There are some websites that offer diagnostic and treatment services for what has sometimes been termed, "Internet Addiction". For example, the website for the Center for On-Line Addiction, directed by psychologist Dr. Kimberly Young (http://netaddiction.com) provides many resources and links for people with this supposed disorder.

Many clinicians, including me, are skeptical that "On Line Addiction" (OLA) is a separate disorder. I believe it is usually just one manifestation of a more general personality trait or psychiatric disorder (such as obsessive-compulsive disorder). I suspect that many OLA sufferers have histories of either substance abuse, depression, pathologic gambling, or other psychiatric disorders, and do not develop OLA out of the blue. For a more skeptical discussion of OLA, see the article by Peter Mitchell in the Feb. 19, 2000 issue of the Lancet.

One study cited by Mitchell found that of 809 Internet users, only 20 fulfilled strict medical criteria for an addiction syndrome (Seeman et al). Still, I do think some people can get caught up in the web, to the exclusion of many other activities. Of course, some would argue that this can also happen with Sunday afternoon football on TV!

You may also want to see the article on the Mayo Clinic website ( http://www.mayohealth.org) that does discuss this problem ("Addicted to the Net-Compulsive Internet Use can damage lives"). And remember: "All things in moderation"!

February 2001

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