Emotional problems framed as “internet addiction”

Are Social Networking Internet Sites a Factor in Psychotic Symptoms?

As Internet access becomes increasingly widespread, so do related psychopathologies such as Internet addiction and delusions related to the technology and to virtual relationships. Computer communications such as Facebook and chat groups are an important part of this story, says Dr. Uri Nitzan of Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine and the Shalvata Mental Health Care Center in a new paper published in the Israel Journal of Psychiatry and Related Sciences.

In his study, the researcher presented three in-depth case studies linking psychotic episodes to Internet communications from his own practice. According to Dr. Nitzan, patients shared some crucial characteristics, including loneliness or vulnerability
due to the loss of or separation from a loved one, relative inexperience with technology, and no prior history of psychosis or substance abuse. In each case, a connection was found between the gradual development and exacerbation of psychotic symptoms, including delusions, anxiety, confusion, and intensified use of computer communications.

 
From what I can gather from the way this press release is written, these were his patients. They were having a particularly difficult time with life and sought out companionship online. It didn’t work out well. I don’t see how this qualifies as “internet addiction”. Later there is mention that the researchers wish to do more work on Facebook to study “the features and applications that have the potential to harm patients emotionally or permit patients to cause emotional harm to others”. While there is a point to be made that social networking is a new thing, and is potentially dangerous due to the ability to be anonymous and hide information, it’s not some special hazard as portrayed. Anyone who is emotionally vulnerable is prone to be taken in by non-digital relationships as well. The internet issue is not the problem but a means, like a drug, to get into trouble. I do not agree that framing it in this way as “internet addiction” is warranted.

  6 comments for “Emotional problems framed as “internet addiction”

  1. Peter Robinson
    November 21, 2012 at 3:18 AM

    You state that the internet, like a drug, is a means to get into trouble. Therefore, why do you have a problem with terming that trouble ‘internet addiction’ any more than someone getting into trouble with heroin would have a heroin addiction?

    It may well be that people who run into problems with excessive or compulsive use of the internet are simply addictive personalities but what is the harm in identifying the internet as a potential problem for some? After all, it is more easily available than illegal drugs.

    Perhaps you can explain in more detail why you are not willing to accept that internet addiction is a valid way of framing the problem? It may be that if identified as a condition the treatment required would not be internet specific, but your analysis pre-supposes that someone who develops an un-healthy ‘relationship’ with the internet would just as easily find other ways to harm themselves. That is a big assumption in itself.

    • November 21, 2012 at 7:46 AM

      In this study, the patients had identified emotional issues. They were coping. To then conclude that the internet was their problem was an unwarranted conclusion. It’s more complicated than that. I object to researchers (or more often the media) looking to blame one thing, and put a label on it, when the problem is far more complicated than that.

    • One Eyed Jack
      November 21, 2012 at 11:49 AM

      Remove the internet and they will redirect their addictive behavior to another outlet.

      It’s not the internet, it’s the patient’s addictive personality. So, it’s a bit of a misnomer to label it as “internet” addiction.

  2. Brian
    November 21, 2012 at 7:57 PM

    *They were having a particularly difficult time with life and sought out companionship online. It didn’t work out well. I don’t see how this qualifies as “internet addiction”.*

    Typical doctor. Don’t treat the problem- call it something else and pill ‘em up. Having been thru this- I can tell you it’s nothing more than a ploy to sell more meds. My problems (not all, but enough) were solved with companionship, and a direction in life. A little meaning, and I’m pretty much stable and happy. Why wouldnt it work for others?

    • November 22, 2012 at 9:21 AM

      I don’t see that it was a “typical doctor” move or that they were treated with pills.

      There are MANY doctors that do not automatically prescribe anti-depressants or pills but recommend lifestyle changes.

  3. macdoktor
    November 21, 2012 at 8:35 PM

    From the original article:

    “Two patients began to feel vulnerable as a result of sharing private information, and one even experienced tactile hallucinations, believing that the person beyond the screen was physically touching her.”

    And

    “Some of the problematic features of the Internet relate to issues of geographical and spatial distortion, the absence of non-verbal cues, and the tendency to idealize the person with whom someone is communicating, becoming intimate without ever meeting face-to-face.”

    In other words, social media have a particular uncanniness that leads to misunderstandings. The normal forms of human interaction are confused and distorted by the medium. What Internet user hasn’t committed a faux pas because of the lack of verbal cues? Some have fallen in love with people they have never seen. In the case of these patients, I would speculate that the use of social media merely exacerbated their existing problems or brought underlying problems to the surface. What separates us from them is that we can recover from such mistakes and adapt to this new version of reality–or run from it. At worst, social media are a new snare for the vulnerable.

    It is not necessary to use buzzwords like “internet Addiction” to describe old pathologies interacting with new technologies. This does not constitute a new psychopathology but rather new vectors for old ones. There is no reframing.

    A man who plays Warcraft for 40 hours straight and dies from dehydration/cardiac arrest is an “addict”–a gaming addict.

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