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What is Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD)?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 16, 2024
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Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) started out as a ruse, the term coined by Dr. Ivan Goldberg in 1995, modeled on pathological gambling as per the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV). Despite the joke, supporters took the “disorder” seriously due to the very real obsession many people have with various online activities. Internet Addiction Disorder has subsequently taken on a life of its own, rising from mere hoax to a potential malady that many believe has roots in reality.

Supporters often break down Internet Addiction Disorder into categories reflecting different types of online addictions that are consistently expressed beyond the generous limits of keen interest or dedicated hobby. Categories such as inappropriate dedication to social networking or blogging, obsessive gaming, habitual pornography, and incessant shopping are some examples.

At least one researcher (and co-author of Breaking Free Of The Web: Catholics And Internet Addiction), Kimberly Young, PSY. D., supports the inclusion of Internet Addiction Disorder in the upcoming fifth edition of the DSM. The American Medical Association (AMA), however, has not made a recommendation to the body responsible for updating the manual, (the American Psychiatric Association), beyond recommending further research into what differentiates “overuse” from “addiction.” General opposition to recognizing IAD as a bona fide disorder is largely based upon a viewpoint that attributes online addiction to existing disorders such as depression, attention deficit disorder (ADD), and compulsive disorders, whereby unhealthy online behaviors are by-products of these established maladies.

One concern with classifying Internet Addiction Disorder as a legitimate disease centers on the insurance industry. Opponents argue that treatment, when called for, is already being offered by identifying the problem as one of the aforementioned underlying diseases. Establishing a new disease based around excessive Internet use could invite a veritable flood of frivolous claims.

A 2005 study by IDC of Framingham Mass., a subsidiary of the world’s leading technology research company, International Data Group (IDG), estimates that 30% to 40% of Internet use in the workplace is non-work related. A 2006 study conducted at Stanford University found one in eight people surveyed showed one or more signs of Internet addiction. Assuming for a moment that IAD enters the DSM-IV as a disorder, what might happen when an employee is reprimanded repeatedly for cruising the Web, chatting, emailing or gaming? Might employers end up doling out insurance money to treat what might simply be lazy employees? How might such a classification of 'Internet use as abuse' effect the bottom line of small and large businesses? Of employee insurance premiums and deductibles? Or would it?

At least one man isn’t waiting for an official classification. In Pacenza v. IBM Corp., No. 04 CIV. 5831 (S.D.N.Y. July 27, 2004), James Pacenza filed a five-million dollar lawsuit against former employer IBM Corp. for wrongful termination, citing the Americans With Disabilities Act. Pacenza was fired due to his predilection to visit adult chat rooms at work. A Vietnam veteran, Pacenza claims post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) led to involvement in adult chat rooms as a way to relieve stress. This in turn led to a sex addiction. Pacenza believes IBM should have provided treatment for his addiction, rather than fire him.

The Center for Internet Addiction Recovery in Bradford, Pennsylvania, provides a list of various warning signs of Internet Addiction Disorder. Accordingly, answering yes to five or more of these warning signs puts one squarely in the IAD camp. Some of the signs include online preoccupation to the exclusion of nearly everything else in one’s life, regularly spending more time than intended online, hiding online activities from loved ones or employers, jeopardizing jobs or relationships for the addiction, and a sense of unease when attempting to stay offline.

If you feel concerned about the amount of time you are spending online, professional help is available even without a formal classification of Internet Addiction Disorder. Speak to a counselor or visit online resources for more information.

EasyTechJunkie is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By anon166119 — On Apr 07, 2011

Can we call iad a disease?

By BostonIrish — On Feb 21, 2011


I think that online RPGs and social networks are meant to buttress real world relationships, not replace them. Learning to compulsively use the internet to satisfy one's social needs can be a harmful use of time and is unrealistic. Often, people feel quite fine saying whatever they want to anybody online, without regards for consequences. This kind of practice breeds a bad environment, and doesn't occur in face-to-face relationships as often.

By arod2b42 — On Feb 18, 2011


What's wrong with that? I have used social networks and online RPGs to make a lot of friends. I wouldn't say they are fake friends, we all feel quite loyal to each other despite never having met in the "real" world.

By GigaGold — On Feb 17, 2011

Some kids go to college and spend all their time online instead of engaging in real social activities. Networks like facebook can be conducive to this kind of faux social life, where people spend hours chatting online with their friends who may live right near them on campus.

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