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DeeAnna Merz Nagel Sep 24, 2009

Is Internet Addiction Really an Addiction?

I recently read a blog post by John Grohol of who often debates whether or not internet addiction is "real." This is a debate that has existed for a years now and with the next DSM in development, questions arise as to whether internet addiction and cybersex addiction should be included, and if so, what might be the criteria?

What I have found is that it is often a debate of semantics. Is internet addiction real? I think it is real for the people who experience it. I think it is real for the people who describe their lives as out of control due to their compulsive behaviors involving the internet. I think when I client comes to me expressing a desire to change yet is so caught up in the net that they cannot find balance in their lives- well, for that client, I think this internet addiction thing is real. In fact, people actually use those words- "I think I am addicted to the internet." So as a clinician, how should I respond?

To the client, naturally I validate his or her experience. To the counseling community, I debate what an internet addiction looks like, what the criteria would be for designating someone as abusive or dependent on technology. But really, what is it? Is it an addiction similar to alcohol or drugs? Is it like gambling? If not, what differentiates or sets apart problematic behaviors around the use of technology? For parents, the concerns involve gaming, texting, and sexting on the internet. For partners of loved ones whose behaviors are interfering with the relationship, the concerns are sleepless nights, surfing the web for hours on end, pornography and cyber-affairs.

I am interested in knowing what other counseling professionals think.
How do we help people who are struggling with an "addiction" that does not exist yet manage to validate their experience and support them on their path of healing? How does the client assimilate this ongoing debate that now appears on mainstream television as comedic story lines, documentaries and news?

What are your thoughts?

DeeAnna Merz-Nagel is a clinical counselor, teacher, workshop presenter, sat on the ACA Cyber Technology Taskforce, and is co-founder of the Online Therapy Institute

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