An addiction without drugs
If researchers still disagree on a common definition of cyberaddiction, there is a consensus that it is a form of behavioural addiction such as an impulse control disorder.
Cyberaddiction can be defined as a psychological disorder leading to an irresistible and obsessive need to play a video game or use the Internet. According to some psychologists, cyberaddiction can also be one of the symptoms of other life problems, where the use of Internet is a way to escape reality.
“the intent of the patient to reduce or stop the consumption or a behaviour without achieving it alone”.
Even if the addictions can be from different sources, there are some common points between them:
Loss of control related to a behaviour;
Continuity of the behaviour despite negative effects;
Intent to reduce or stop the behaviour without achieving it alone;
Need to increase the doses to get the same effect as in the beginning;
Presenting withdrawals symptoms (edginess, insomnia…).
According to some experts, cyberaddiction relates to four fields:
Video games of action and adventure;
Virtual relationships (friendly or romantic).
But a lack of consensus also appears when it is time to diagnose cyberaddiction. However with time and the way in which Internet has become part of everyday life, the criteria for diagnosis are more numerous than when researchers started to study the subject (see following box).
Characteristics of Internet addiction according to Ko and al. (2009)
Six (or more) of the following symptoms have been present:
Preoccupation with Internet activities.
Recurrent failure to resist the impulse to use the Internet.
Tolerance: a marked increase in the duration of Internet use needed to achieve satisfaction.
Withdrawal, as manifested by either of the following:
Symptoms of dysphoric mood, anxiety, irritability, and boredom after several days without Internet activity.
Use of Internet to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.
Use of Internet for a period longer than intended.
Persistent desire and/or unsuccessful attempts to cut down or reduce Internet use.
Excessive time spent on Internet activities.
Excessive effort spent on activities necessary to obtain access to the Internet.
Continued heavy Internet use despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem likely to have been caused or exacerbated by Internet use.
Functional impairment: one (or more) of the following symptoms have been present:
Recurrent Internet use resulting in a failure to fulfill obligations at work, school, and home.
Important social or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of Internet use.
Recurrent legal problems because of Internet behaviour.
The Internet addictive behaviour is not better accounted for by psychotic disorder, bipolar I disorder, or other disorders
To treat cyberaddiction, it is possible to follow a psychotherapy or a cognitive behavioural therapy. There are also virtual clinics offering online treatments. But we can wonder what the quality of such a treatment is, considering that it is necessary to go on the Internet to treat an Internet addiction problem. However, in some countries like France, Taiwan and the Netherlands, a few hospitals and clinics are interested in the problem and offer treatments to patients with Internet and video game addiction symptoms.
If you want to learn more on cyberaddiction, we invite you to look at our dossier. You will find interviews with the psychologist Kimberly Young, the video game designer Louis-Martin Guay and the director of the organization Action Innocence France Véronique Fima-Fromager.
What do you think?
Should we worry about this new trend? Can cyberaddiction be hiding a deeper social malaise?
Author : Pauline Boinot, M.Sc.
Ko C.H., J.Y. Yen, S.H. Chen, M.J. Yang, H.C. Lin, C.F. Yen (2009), Proposed diagnostic criteria and the screening and diagnosing tool of Internet addiction in college students, Comprehensive Psychiatry (50), 378-384.
Valleur M., J-C. Matysiak (2004), Les nouvelles formes d’addiction, Paris, France : Flammarion.
Vaugeois P. (2006), Cyberaddiction : Fundamentals and Perspectives, Quebec Addiction Prevention Center