The internet: Mental-health specialists disagree over whether to classify compulsive online behaviour as addiction—and how to treat it
CRAIG SMALLWOOD, a disabled American war veteran, spent more than 20,000 hours over five years playing an online role-playing game called “Lineage II”. When NCsoft, the South Korean firm behind the game, accused him of breaking the game’s rules and banned him, he was plunged into depression, severe paranoia and hallucinations. He spent three weeks in hospital. He sued NCsoft for fraud and negligence, demanding over $9m in damages and claiming that the company acted negligently by failing to warn him of the danger that he would become “addicted” to the game.
But does it make sense to talk of addiction to online activity? Mental-health specialists say three online behaviours can become problematic for many people: video games, pornography and messaging via e-mail and social networks. But there is far less agreement about whether any of this should be called “internet addiction”—or how to treat it.
Some mental-health specialists wanted “internet addiction” to be included in the fifth version of psychiatry’s bible, the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders”, known as DSM-V, which is currently being overhauled. The American Medical Association endorsed the idea in 2007, only to backtrack days later. The American Journal of Psychiatry called internet addiction a “common disorder” and supported its recognition. Last year the DSM-V drafting group made its decision: internet addiction would not be included as a “behavioural addiction”—only gambling made the cut—but it said further study was warranted.