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Eye on Psi Chi: Fall 1997
Internet Use Disorders
Mitchell M. Handelsman, University of Colorado at Denver
Joseph J. Palladino, University of Southern Indiana

We have been privy to drafts of the new DSM-VIII-R-II-R, which contains a new category of disorders specifically dealing with the Internet. Indeed, this class of disorders would have been included in earlier versions of dsm, but the writers decided to delay full descriptions of these disorders until they had finished checking their e-mail. One could argue that such a delay is unconscionable, as it prolongs the devastating social consequences of the disorders. However, the people most susceptible to Internet disorders have very little influence on society in the first place, so their absence has hardly been noticed.

Nevertheless, a growing number of people have been falling victim to Internet-related disorders due to two major factors: (a) the increasing availability of computers, and (b) the emergence of the Fox TV Network. Here, we present some of the basics of these dreaded disorders:

132.429.951.341 Internet Dependence
132.429.951.342 Internet Abuse

Diagnostic Features
The essential feature of Internet Dependence is a cluster of cognitive, behavioral, and physiological symptoms indicating that the individual continues use of the Internet despite significant computer-related problems.

Criteria For Internet Dependence
A maladaptive pattern of Internet use, leading to clinically significant impairment or distress, as manifested by the following, occurring at any time in the same 12-month period:

1. tolerance
2. withdrawal
3. five or more of the following indicators:
a. Your phone bill comes to your house in a carton.
b. You don't call your mother because she doesn't have a modem.
c. You tell the cab driver you live at
d. You don't recognize a smile unless people tilt their head
sideways: :-)
e. That ringing sound under the papers on your desk startles you.
f. You have so many mailboxes, you write and respond to yourself.
g. "http://" starts making sense to you.
h. You think the bottom of Maslow's hierarchy needs to be
extended to accommodate one more survival need.
i. You open a tuition trust fund for your children, but only to
send them to CPU.

The two characteristics that distinguish Internet Dependence from Internet Abuse are tolerance and withdrawal. Tolerance refers to the need for increased exposure to the Internet to produce the desired effects. For example, many people begin their road to oblivion by using the Internet to produce maps of cities they will be visiting on business. This produces a pleasant level of intoxication. However, this pleasant effect wears off; after a while the effect can only be achieved by using the Internet (at $14 per hour) to order pizza from the corner restaurant.

Withdrawal is characterized by symptoms that develop when one ceases exposure to the Internet. The symptoms of withdrawal have been noted in epidemic proportions following electrical power outages. These symptoms have been mistaken in the past for PTSD. Many people have been found near exhaustion and in an emaciated state as they have tried to power their computer by generating electricity. For example, they have been found on bicycles attached to generators, pedaling frantically, their fingers desperately caressing their lifeless keyboards.

One particularly serious case of withdrawal concerned the victim of Internet dependence on a two-week camping trip who started catching ground squirrels and using them to click on some wood to start a fire. When he was found several weeks later, cold and starving, he was using the same ground squirrels to click on trees and bushes, hoping that berries and apples would be downloaded to him.

Familial Pattern
There is no doubt that Internet Disorders run in families. Researchers investigating these disorders have uncovered a revolutionary finding that has led to shock waves through the genetics community. Although the mechanism is yet to be identified, evidence reveals that parents get this disorder from their more computer-literate children. The heritability for these disorders is approximately -.60; the negative sign indicates the newly discovered phenomenon of reverse inheritance.

Associated Disorders
Clinicians report that there are virtually no cases of Internet Disorders occurring without the presence of other disorders, especially personality disorders. Thus, Internet disorders exhibit almost 100% comorbidity. This phenomenon would complicate treatment, but these individuals rarely seek treatment. Among the common patterns is Internet Disorder with Antisocial Personality. These individuals spend most of their day flaming strangers and charming others into revealing their passwords and credit card numbers. In some cases such individuals engage in actual flaming, using a blow torch or gasoline. In cases in which Internet Disorders appear with Dependent Personality Disorder, the individual is often seated in front of the computer screen patiently waiting for instructions on how to proceed, what to say, to whom, and how to say it. Narcissistic Personality Disorder is also comorbid with Internet Disorders; these individuals send themselves long, glowing messages that extol their virtues and supposed achievements. The person with Schizoid Personality Disorder doesn't care if anyone reads messages; the person with Paranoid Personality Disorder is concerned that everyone is reading their messages. The person with Avoidant Personality Disorder does not read any responses for fear that they may contain criticisms.

Specific Culture, Age, And Gender Features
It is harder to diagnose Internet Disorders in teenagers because (a) younger people seem to develop an immunity to the illness, and (b) it is so hard to tell when adolescents are impaired.

The gender distribution is as follows:

Male = 22%Female =13%Nerds = 65%

Differential Diagnosis
Many of the symptoms of Internet Dependence and Abuse are found in E-mail Abuse. In E-mail Abuse, however, the symptoms occur in a more localized set of circumstances The differential diagnosis is aided by two new assessment devices, the Hawaii Test of Text Production--or HTTP--and the E Mail Diagnostic Routine or EMDR.

Internet Dependence must also be differentiated from the particularly distressing Discussion List-Induced Dementia, or DL-ID. The major distinguishing sign of DL-ID is one of three forms of POSTING ENVY: (a) An inability to be satisfied with the average of 2-3 postings per week. Some people have an insatiable ability to post, and are able to post multiple times without the usual refractory period in between. (b) Postings that are too short or too long. Some postings are so short that their meaning is unclear. Others are so long that they induce sleep. Professionals should be concerned when patterns develop in posting length, although the available research suggests that length is not generally correlated with satisfaction among those who receive postings. (c) A sense of being cheated when someone else posts the idea that you were going to. Some people respond with the reaction formation of flaming the poster for an inane idea. Others use denial: They simply go ahead and post exactly the same idea. (d) An inordinate sense of pleasure from several postings in the same day.

College professors are especially likely to develop work-related DL-ID impairments. For example, many professors apply prematurely for promotion. They feel their scholarly productivity is skyrocketing because they consider every post to a discussion list a publication. Meanwhile, they haven't submitted a research paper to a journal in eight years.

A Web-Induced Delirium can be distinguished from Internet Dependence by the presence of one or more of the following symptoms:

  1. You move into a big new home and decide to Netscape before you landscape.
  2. Your dog has his own Web page (and it gets more visits than yours).
  3. You get a tattoo that reads, "This body best viewed with Netscape Navigator 3.0 or higher."

There is no effective treatment for Internet Dependence or Abuse. Unfortunately, the only psychologists who seem to be offering any treatment for these disorders are offering their treatments . . . over the Internet.

Authors' note. Some of the material we have presented has been lifted directly from anonymous posts on the Internet, so we cannot give full credit. The tendency to steal from the Internet is in itself not a symptom of abuse or dependence, but may be involved in the differential diagnosis of Internet Disorders and Antisocial Personality Disorder. Some of the ideas were offered by students in a Perspectives on Humor class taught by Joe Palladino (yes, he does actually teach a humor course and gets paid for it). Thanks to the following students: Greg Allen, Debra Forrest, Bob Gustin, and Rick Mark.



Copyright 1997 (Volume 2, Issue 1) by Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology



Eye on Psi Chi is a magazine designed to keep members and alumni up-to-date with all the latest information about Psi Chi’s programs, awards, and chapter activities. It features informative articles about careers, graduate school admission, chapter ideas, personal development, the various fields of psychology, and important issues related to our discipline.

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