No, internet addiction is not an ‘official mental illness’

The media has been buzzing with the supposed news that ‘internet addiction’ has been added to the list of ‘official mental disorders’. This is nonsense, but it tells us something oddly disappointing about how the media handles tech scare scores.

This recent wave of ‘the internet is making us crazy’ drivel stemmed from an article published in The Sydney Morning Herald and the story soon went global – being picked up by everyone from the Wall Street Journal to Russia Today.

Firstly, for those of you who are not aware why the concept of internet addiction is so untrue it’s a logical impossibility, I’ll direct you to an earlier post.

But talking specifically about the article which sparked the media panic attack, it’s odd in that it quotes two psychologists – one who has never published anything on internet addiction and the other who is a Reiki therapist. This doesn’t make it wrong but it does strike me as slightly strange for a news piece.

The article is trying to talk about the listing of ‘internet use disorder‘ in a non-diagnosable section of the DSM-5 for conditions “recommended for further study”.

This section has speculative and non-official disorders in it. You can find caffeine use disorder there if you’re feeling a bit jittery.

It also has the diagnosis of attenuated psychosis syndrome in it. Here’s how science journal Nature reacted when this diagnosis was listed in the same section: “Psychosis risk syndrome excluded from DSM-5″

In other words, if something appears in the DSM-5 section “recommended for further study” it is excluded from the list of ‘official mental illnesses’ because the diagnosis has been evaluated but found to be unsupported by research evidence.

It’s a mystery why this has suddenly become ‘news’ now because this decision has been discussed for years and it finally happened last May.

But it’s also worth noting that even the proposed definition of internet use disorder isn’t actually about using the internet, it’s about online gaming. This doesn’t make it any less nonsense, however. If someone who is addicted to gambling starts playing online do they suddenly have ‘another mental illness’? Clearly not.

Similarly, the idea that someone can be ‘addicted to gaming’ is just daft as the concept of ‘gaming’ is so wide as to not describe any single behaviour or experience – something quite important if you’re going to say that there is a mental illness based on it.

More interestingly, the The Sydney Morning Herald article has a curious quirk that allows us to see how lazily these stories get picked up and flung around.

The piece says will be included in the ‘revised edition of the DSM-IV’ – which is presumably a very awkward way of saying DSM-5.

Suddenly though, the world’s media is saying that ‘internet addiction’ will be included in the ‘DSM-IV’ which would be quite a feat considering it was published in 1994.

Here’s the clanger presented as original journalism from Forbes, the Daily Mail, the HuffPo, Mashable, the New York Post, Times of India and Russia Today. The Guardian even asked readers to vote on whether it was true!

Essentially, you can currently get anything into the media just by suggesting that technology is ‘bad for our minds’, because we love stories that justify our worries – no matter how untrue.

We used to think schools were ‘bad for the mind’ but try getting ‘education causes mental illness’ into the newspapers.

12 thoughts on “No, internet addiction is not an ‘official mental illness’”

  1. The reason this story got written was that the Australian Psychological Society put out a media release outlining their submission to the DSM-5 taskforce, which said internet use disorder should be “expanded” beyond gaming. I’d say you have to blame the psychologists not the journalists for this one!

  2. From your previous post “Why there is no such thing as internet addiction”

    “The core problem is not using repetitive, extended internet use, or even intrusive thoughts about keeping track of online events (otherwise 90% of the office workforce would be diagnosed), but low mood and social withdrawal.
    In Japan, almost exactly the same problems have been named ‘hikkikomori‘. One of the key characteristics of hikkikomori individuals is that they isolate themselves and occupy their time with the internet and video games.
    But the Japanese, rather sensibly, identify the core problem as social withdrawal, and the excessive solitary activities as symptoms – just ways in which isolated people try to fill the void.”

    All good points. But you could make the exact same argument about a alcoholism. That alcohol addiction is just a way to cope with emotional pain. Nevertheless, continued excessive drinking is considered a barrier to healing, and giving up alcohol, or at least cutting back, is considered an important step towards mental health.

    Similarly, although “internet addiction” may just be a symptom of social withdrawal, it also acts as a barrier to social interaction. It is not just a way for “isolated people try to fill the void”, it actually makes real-life social interaction less appealing since it is not as exciting and takes more effort than virtual social interactions.

    Social isolation has always existed, but TV and the internet have made social isolation much more common. Boredom used to be a powerful motivator for getting outside of the house, and for seeking social interaction. Now video games, the internet and TV have all made staying at home very entertaining and exciting without the hassle and effort of real life interaction with other people.


    1. @Terry: what you say is very true ; the Internet, TV and all technolgies on the whole tend to withdraw people more than binding them together.

  3. As usual, mindhacks posts on Internet addiction cherry pick bad research and exclude evidence supporting IAD

    In fact every brain study performed has confirmed the same brain changes as seen is substance addicts. No exceptions. Please google the following

    1. Reduced Striatal Dopamine Transporters in People with Internet Addiction Disorder (2012)

    2. Reduced Striatal Dopamine D2 Receptors in People With Internet Addiction (2011)

    3. Effects of electroacupuncture combined psycho-intervention on cognitive function and event related potentials P300 and mismatch negativity in patients with internet addiction (2012)

    4. Abnormal White Matter Integrity in Adolescents with Internet Addiction Disorder: A Tract-Based Spatial Statistics Study (2012)

    5. Microstructure Abnormalities in Adolescents with Internet Addiction Disorder. (2011)

    6. Gray Matter Abnormalities In Internet Addiction: A Voxel-Based Morphometry Study (2009)

    7. Male Internet addicts show impaired executive control ability evidence from a color-word: Stroop task (2011)

    8. Enhanced Reward Sensitivity and Decreased Loss Sensitivity in Internet Addicts: An fMRI Study During a Guessing Task (2011)

    9. Impulse inhibition in people with Internet addiction disorder: electrophysiological evidence from a Go/NoGo study (2010)

    10. Increased regional homogeneity in internet addiction disorder a resting state functional magnetic resonance imaging study (2009)

    11. Abnormal brain activation of adolescent internet addict in a ball-throwing animation task: Possible neural correlates of disembodiment revealed by fMRI (2012)

    12. Impaired inhibitory control in internet addiction disorder: A functional magnetic resonance imaging study. (2012)

    The above were Internet addiction studies. The following looked at Internet video-gaming addiction:

    12. Preliminary study of Internet addiction and cognitive function in adolescents based on IQ tests (2011)

    13. Brain correlates of craving for online gaming under cue exposure in subjects with Internet gaming addiction and in remitted subjects. (2011)

    14. Changes in Cue Induced Prefrontal Cortex Activity with Video Game Play. (2010)

    15. Altered regional cerebral glucose metabolism in internet game overusers: a 18F-fluorodeoxyglucose positron emission tomography study (2010)

    16. Cue induced positive motivational implicit response in young adults with internet gaming addiction (2011)

    17. Brain activity and desire for Internet video game play (2011)

    18. Excessive Internet gaming and decision making: Do excessive World of Warcraft players have problems in decision making under risky conditions? (2011)

    19. Specific cue reactivity on computer game related cues in excessive gamers (2007)

    20. The neural basis of video gaming (2011)
    21. Attentional bias and disinhibition toward gaming cues are related to problem gaming in male adolescents. (2012)

    22. Alterations in regional homogeneity of resting state brain activity in internet gaming addicts. (2012)

    Only two studies from the above list followed Internet addicts through recovery. Both found a *reversal* of the biomarkers in former addicts:

    1. Effects of electroacupuncture combined psycho-intervention on cognitive function and event related potentials P300 and mismatch negativity in patients with internet addiction (2012)

    2. Brain correlates of craving for online gaming under cue exposure in subjects with Internet gaming addiction and in remitted subjects. (2011)

    This one found Internet addiction was the *cause* of multiple symptoms:

    1. Precursor or Sequela: Pathological Disorders in People with Internet Addiction Disorder (2011)

    1. Someone needs to thank you for the time invested in that post, Gary. I see clients every day who’re struggling with issues that involve social isolation, depression, deficits of impulse control, etc who cite some aspect of the internet as an exacerbating factor. Curious what the credentials and motivation of the article’s writer must be for them to have such an oddly hostile point of view.

    2. “Every study”? Garnia (Gary Wilson and his wifey Marnia who threatens to sue anyone who talks ill of him) have been booted off of so many lists and are completely excluded from actual scientific discussions. In fact, they just got slapped down by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for claiming to have expertise in this area:

      …and they most certainly do get rid of dissent (

      This guy has no credentials in this area, which might not be a problem if he didn’t also then openly lie and misrepresent. He even acknowledges he cannot access most of the “studies” he cites because they are behind a pay wall. He could not possibly have even read most of them!

      You are a fraud.

  4. Internet addiction is definitely a big problem. I personally do not find it surprising that is has been added to the list of official mental illnesses. Whether it is true or not is a different matter but it is affecting our society and this cannot be denied. I would have thought it was addedd many years ago.

  5. “The Guardian even asked readers to vote on whether it was true!”
    That’s misleading. The linked article is in the “Comment is free” section of the Guardian.
    Getting something published in the comment is free section is pretty easy. It doesn’t have the tight editorial control that the regular Guardian has.

  6. I suppose this would eventually water down to whether said idea interferes with social and occupational functioning. My guess would be that it some situations it does. Given that the internet can be seen as no different to any other social space, an individual might not want to spend their life online… I can’t see an argument for why it may not eventually be included within the scope of the DSM.

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