Last March, Jamaica Hospital Medical Center hosted a symposium to discuss a developing controversial diagnosis — internet addiction.
The idea that a person’s reliance on his or her smartphone, laptop or Apple TV is on par with one’s reliance on liquor or drugs is not universally accepted, but there is growing evidence that it is a problem.
“Some people feel it shouldn’t be put in as a valid diagnoses,” explained Dr. Fermin Gonzalez, director of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center.
Last year’s symposium featured Dr. Paul Weigle, child and adolescent psychiatrist at Natchaug Hospital in Mansfield Center, Conn., and Dr. Nicholas Carson, child and adolescent psychiatrist at the Cambridge Health Alliance. Both doctors are researching the problem of internet addiction, its effects and possible treatment.
According to research by Dr. Elias Aboujaoude of Stanford University, between 3 and 10 percent of the population suffers from internet addiction. Gonzalez said internet addiction shows similar symptoms to compulsive gambling and obsessive compulsive disorder and goes beyond just surfing the web.
“It’s not just an internet phenomenon, it’s a technology phenomenon,” he said, noting the addiction includes being connected to phones, tablets, iPods, etc.
As the technology becomes more widely available, it falls into the hands of those who have addictive personalities.
One of the problems with internet addiction is that it’s hard to identify because there are not real physical symptoms usually associated with addiction problems.
“It’s not as dangerous physiologically, but can be dangerous psychologically,” Gonzalez said.
He said the problem can lead to time away from family, friends or activities the addict enjoys and problems in the workplace, including decreased productivity due to surfing the internet or being connected to technology. The problem is often exacerbated by the fact that unlike other types of addiction, such as alcohol and drugs, technology is a part of everyday life and it is often a requirement, especially in the workplace, to have access to computers, smartphones and the internet.
Signs of internet addiction related to substance abuse include: preoccupation with the internet; progressively increasing the amount of time you are connected in order to get the same satisfaction; unsuccessful attempts to decrease usage; usage during critical times when other things should be done and secretive and lying behaviors concerning internet usage. Gonzalez warned that the symptoms have not yet been fully identified because internet addiction has yet to be fully recognized as an official disease.
He said there are no set treatments for internet addictions, though Aboujaoude has had some success treating cases with anti-depressants along with cognitive behavioral therapy.
But Gonzalez warned that there is still not enough research to make a full medical diagnosis