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Web addiction poses risk to mental health

Guest Columnist

Published: Sunday, October 14, 2012

Updated: Sunday, October 14, 2012 14:10

Facebook, Reddit, Tumblr, YouTube, eBay, pornography, Netflix, World of Warcraft, FarmVille, the list could go on for miles. Is the Internet just a modern day boob tube, or is it something more menacing? According to a Russia Today article, there have been recent reports of people dying, murdering and fatally neglecting their children, all in the interest of online gaming, and psychologists are looking deeper into the phenomenon of Internet addiction.

Reports such as these are why there is a call for the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder’s inclusion of Internet-use disorder as a viable mental illness.

People starving their children or children shooting their parents over video games? These are truly frightening accounts of people who have, for all intents and purposes, a skewed or nonexistent relationship with the outside world. According to Internet World Stats, more than 2 billion people in the world have access to the Internet.

Of course, only a percentage of those people have or are going to develop an addiction. Most people can surf the web for an hour or so a day and still power down and function normally through their daily lives. One can drink a few beers a week and not be classified as an alcoholic, but, like alcoholism, Internet addiction is not to be taken lightly. However, can it be considered dangerous enough to be classified as a mental illness? A mental illness disrupts and impedes a person’s ability to function in society and personal life. These days, there is free wireless access to the Internet practically anywhere you go. With today’s smartphones, we can have the Internet in our pockets. The easier the access, the more likely it is for one to fall into bad habits. Just look at fast-food dollar menus. If it weren’t so cheap and easy to get unhealthy food, the obesity problem in this country might not be as alarming. If the remote control was never invented, people would still be getting off of the couch. I’m not advocating that these modern conveniences don’t have their place, but when people are left to their own devices, they will, generally speaking, fall into self-destructive behaviors. If Internet addiction was to be classified as a mental disease, it would be possible for people who suffer from it to get the help they need. Treatments, support groups and therapy would become available to people who want help.

Addiction can come in many forms. Drugs, gambling, sex, food, cigarettes — anything that pleasurably stimulates either the body or the brain can become addicting to people who are susceptible to compulsion. While millions of people go through their daily lives with only moderate and necessary Internet use, Internet addiction is real and needs to be recognized for what it is: a very real and debilitating disorder. People who deal with this addiction need to have treatments available to them if they so wish to seek them. Recognition by the DSM-IV would be a tremendous help to getting this threat taken seriously, open up avenues to more research and get the people who would help themselves the services they need to combat their vices.

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