Therapy Matters

Reflections of a young clinician

Can You Really Become Addicted to the Internet?

New study finds many college students are addicted to the Internet

Imagine what it would be like not to have access to the Internet or your cell phone for 24 hours. To me the idea sounds wonderful; for many college students, however, such an idea sounds perverse.  

According to a University of Maryland study released last year, many college students are addicted to the Internet.  Researchers asked 200 college students to give up all forms of media for 24 hour and what they discovered were that many students showed symptoms associated with addiction, including withdrawal, cravings and elevated anxiety.

One student who participated in the study even commented: "I am clearly addicted... between having a Blackberry, a laptop, a television, and an iPod, people have become unable to shed their media skin."  According to Susan Moeller, the study's project director and a journalism director at the university, student participants had difficulty disconnecting from the Internet.  "Going without media meant," for these students, "going without their friends and family," according to Moeller.  

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On the surface, the idea a person could become so dependent to the Internet sounds a bit far fetched.  We often associate addiction with things like alcohol, drugs, and gambling, activities that are known to cause serious impairment, both physiological and psychological in the person who is addicted.  Although the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual does not recognize addiction as a diagnostic category, it does make reference to substance abuse and dependence.  For example, according to the current DSM-IV-TR, substance dependence is defined as:

"When an individual persists in use of alcohol or other drugs despite problems, related to use of the substance, substance dependence may be diagnosed.  Compulsive and repetitive use may result in tolerance to the effect of the drug and withdrawal symptoms when use is reduced or stopped."

Whether or not "Internet addiction" qualifies as a valid addiction will require further research.  In the meantime, there is little question many college students have developed an unhealthy relationship with technology.  Like other potentially compulsive behaviors such as gambling, exercising, and eating, people who engage in addictive behaviors initially derive pleasure from them, only later to develop a dependence that can become all consuming and potentially self-destructive.  

For more on this topic, visit "A Day Without Social Media," a research study conducted by the International Center for Media and the Public Agenda (ICMPA) at the University of Maryland.

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Tyger Latham, Psy.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist practicing in Washington, DC.  He counsels individuals and couples and has a particular interest in sexual traumagender development, and LGBT concerns.  His blog, Therapy Matters, explores the art and science of psychotherapy.

 

 

Dr. Tyger Latham is a clinical psychologist practicing in Washington, D.C., where he specializes in men's issues, trauma, and LGBT concerns.

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