Yes, being addicted to the internet could soon be a real psychiatric malady. Specifically, addictive behavior pertaining to online gaming is being considered as an illness diagnosed in patients exhibiting signs of Social Anxiety. So distinct are the symptoms of this illness that it has the potential to be called “Internet Gaming Disorder” (IGD). IGD is now identified in Section III of the new Diagnostic and Statistically manual as being a topic that requires more clinical research and experience before become a true diagnosis.

IGD holds several challenges in determining its causes, diagnosis and treatment. The initial question is a classic “Chicken or Egg” scenario. Are people who are already showing signs of Social Anxiety becoming drawn to gaming and social media as a “safer” means of social interaction for fear of being rejected, or has gaming and social media created a perfect landscape for people to become socially withdrawn, isolated and prone to a sedentary life style?

In either case, social anxiety has become a far more prevalent disease with the increased isolation brought on by compulsive – sometimes addictive – internet based activities.

I see many patients, young and old, who have found that their “normal” daily activities consist of work or school, or worse, nothing, followed by countless lost hours of internet based games like World of Warcraft, Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty, and Halo. Often they spend increasing hours on social media sites: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Tinder, and others with an insatiable appetite for new and trending Apps. The online games, combined with the voluntary barrage of social media, foster a mentality that creates false worlds, personalities, and even friends which become an entrenched substitute for reality.

Yet, even without the addictive qualities of social media, a classic case of IGD would potentially include repetitive use of Internet-based games, often with other players, which lead to significant issues with functioning in reality. In order to determine the presence of IGD, five of the following proposed criteria would have to be met within one year:

  1. Preoccupation or obsession with Internet Games. Other important activities and functions – even real-world relationships – are dismissed and suffer.
  2. Withdrawal symptoms are experienced when not playing Internet Games: anxiety, depression, substance abuse, etc.
  3. A build-up of tolerance. More time needs to be spent playing the Games in order to achieve the desired stimulation.
  4. A perceived inability to cease playing. The person has tried to stop or curb playing Internet Games, but has failed to do so.
  5. Behavioral changes. The person has experienced a loss of interest in other life activities, such as hobbies, goals, physical health, self-improvement, etc.
  6. The person continued the overuse of Internet Games even with full knowledge of the Game’s negative impact on their life.
  7. The person lied to others about their Internet Game usage.
  8. The person habitually used Internet Games to relieve anxiety, guilt or as a form of escape from real-world issues.
  9. The person has lost or put at risk an opportunity or relationship because of Internet games.
  10. The person has spent or lost significant amounts of money in the course of Internet Gaming.

In reviewing these criteria it is clear that compulsive internet usage presents similarly to an addiction. As such, it should be viewed as an illness, something that is difficult to control or truly understand.

Whatever virtual road a person travels to arrive at IGD, they become easily isolated from the outside world, the world of reality with all its rewards and risks. Relatives and friends may see them as merely sedentary couch potatoes.  However, their condition may be far more serious, and diabolical to their mental health.

Without question, the internet is an enormously useful tool when used as a resource or place of recreation and social interaction. There is also no doubt that a growing number of people are unable to control their use of the internet with appropriate moderation. When someone limits their contact to “friends” in their virtual world, they become highly susceptible to Social Anxiety by losing the skills necessary to interact socially without the use of electronics. They quickly forget how to connect, how to converse, how to build lifelong meaningful relationships.

Having totally plugged into their virtual reality, they have unplugged from life itself.

Are you or is someone you know addicted to the internet? Find out. Here is the Internet Addiction Test: