Alcohol, drugs, food, sex, and even shopping are all candidates for medical treatment and are recognized as genuine mental disorders, so what about the Internet? Internet addiction -defined as "excessive gaming, sexual pre-occupations, and email/text messaging" - is becoming so common that at least one psychiatrist says it merits inclusion in psychiatry's official handbook of mental illness, the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders."
Dr. Jerald Block of the Oregon Health and Science University is the latest voice pushing for this inclusion, noting that tech junkies display genuinely debilitating behavior, including drug-like cravings, withdrawal, and a constant need for more and better gear - just like a substance addict might exhibit.
But other doctors comment that Internet addiction, while it may be real, is too new of a condition and needs further study before being medically classified. There might be something to this: No one wants people being medicated or institutionalized if they aren't genuinely ill.
The "Manual of Mental Disorders" won't be published again until 2012, but an early draft will arrive for public comment in 2009. Meanwhile, mind docs say the problem is growing, now possibly affecting up to 10 percent of Internet users. Recent studies are surprising, indicating the problem is worst not among game-obsessed teens, but rather among middle-aged women who stay at home, constantly on the computer as a way of connecting to the outside world.
Is computer use (or computer downtime) causing a problem in your life? If so, you might be an addict. But you'll have to wait a few more years to find out for sure.
POLL: How many hours a day are you on the Net?