Are You “Addicted” to Staying Connected?

Can people be addicted to playing computer games or checking Facebook or email? Almost all universally recognized addictions are for substances such as drugs, alcohol and tobacco, because non-substance addictions, called “process disorders,” are so difficult to pin down. Now scientists are investigating addiction to the internet, cell phones and other devices of instant connection to data and personal entertainment.   

For the first time, gaming disorder was listed in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5, or DSM-5. However, it was included only in Section III of the manual, which is reserved for conditions that require further research before they can be formally identified as a disorder. The manual deliberately excludes any mention of addiction to social media, email or general web surfing because there is not a great enough body of research to form a consensus on these topics yet.

An addiction is a compulsive need for something characterized by increasing tolerance, mental and physical harm caused by usage and well-defined withdrawal symptoms, such as depression and anxiety. Internet addiction, which scientists are working to prove or disprove, is defined as a psychological condition, which includes playing not only games, but also the need to be connected and able to “plug in.”

Extreme players told ABC News they have found themselves hooked on a game, unable to concentrate on work or chores and even neglecting their children at times.

“Internet addicts” were most often involved with gaming. Typical Internet addicts were young, male and highly intelligent. They often struggle socially and suffer from low self-esteem. The majority are obsessed with such games as “World of Warcraft,” not social media or pornography. Women were more likely to play games like Candy Crush or Farmville.

“They go online because they can become someone else and be admired for their skills,” one clinician said.

Computer games become a kind of escape mechanism for many people. Most people balance their online life with their offline life. Future research will provide more information about addiction to modern technology such as playing computer games and social media.