NET NEWS: Hold the Clicks, They May Be Addictive

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Science  03 Sep 1999:
Vol. 285, Issue 5433, pp. 1455
DOI: 10.1126/science.285.5433.1455c

Internet rehab? Surfers Anonymous? Don't be surprised if Internet addiction becomes the next fashionable disorder of impulse control. With 83-million-and-climbing Americans online, a new survey suggests that obsessive Net use is right up there with compulsions such as gambling.

Psychologist David Greenfield of West Hartford, Connecticut, reported last week in Boston at the American Psychological Association meeting on a poll he conducted with ABC on its site (abcnews.com). He asked visitors to answer 10 questions adapted from those for assessing pathological gambling, probing such matters as whether the individual had tried to quit but couldn't, whether they used the Net to “escape,” and whether it disrupted their personal or financial lives. Five “yes” answers indicated a problem. Of the 17,251 respondents—a self-selected group, so they are unlikely to be representative of the user population—Greenfield reported that 990, or 5.7%, qualified as Internet-dependent. He suggested that cyber-addictions could be broken down into sex, gambling, trading, shopping, and Net surfing.

The poll “add[s] to the validity of earlier work [showing that] Internet addiction is a serious problem,” says psychologist Kimberly Young of the University of Pittsburgh. It also may be a serious new source of business for psychologists: Young herself runs a Center for On-Line Addiction (http://www.netaddiction.com/).

Internet addiction hasn't yet made it into psychiatry's bible, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. But it could end up in a catch-all category of “impulse control disorders” along with gambling and kleptomania, suggests Yale psychiatrist Bruce Rounsaville. But Washington, D.C., psychologist Lester Turner is skeptical. “The Net is more the vehicle to get you to what you get addicted to,” he says.

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