Internet addiction, while not yet listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, has been formally recognized as a disorder by the American Psychological Association. Internet addiction is defined as problematic use of email, forums, chat rooms, websites and other online resources to the extent that it interferes with daily activities and personal relationships. Although the media often stereotypes Internet addiction as a problem associated with young adult upper-middle-class males, this is a condition that is not defined by age, gender, ethnicity, income or level of education.
Presence of Other Addictions
The most common theory regarding Internet addiction is that problematic use of technology is simply an extension of other addictive behaviors. For example, online casinos often prove irresistible to people struggling with gambling problems. If a person with a history of problematic gambling is only using the Internet to place bets, it’s likely his behavior is just a progression of his existing gambling addiction and not an entirely separate disorder. The same logic would apply to someone with a shopping addiction who can’t stop buying items on eBay or a sex addict who spends eight hours each day looking at pornographic websites.
Shyness or Social Anxiety
People who are very shy and find it difficult to interact with others may develop an Internet addiction because meeting people online seems less intimidating than face-to-face communication. The desire for human connection is extremely powerful, even among people suffering from social anxiety. Visiting forums and chat rooms gives them a way to develop relationships without directly facing their fears. They can carefully control how they are perceived by others when they communicate online, even going so far as to create an alternate personality that is not entirely based in reality.
In some cases, depression can cause Internet addiction. Just as certain people who are depressed turn to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate their unhappy thoughts, the pleasurable experience of being online can become a coping mechanism that helps a person struggling with depression make it through the day.
Modeling plays a role in many different types of behavioral issues, including Internet addiction. If a person’s peers are engaging in excessive Internet use, the behavior starts to seem more socially acceptable. For this reason, Internet addiction does seem to be more common among people who play social online games such as World of Warcraft and Dungeons and Dragons.