Technology & Science·Audio

Why internet addiction is a controversial diagnosis

Internet Use Disorder will be officially recognized in a widely used mental health manual this spring as an area that warrants further investigation, but not everyone thinks that is progress.

Isaac Vaisberg describes himself as a recovering internet addict.

The U.S. law student says World of Warcraft, a popular multiplayer online roleplaying game, transformed him from a scholarship recipient to a recluse who spent hours in front of the computer.

"I stopped even going out to get food at one point," he said. "It would be painstaking for me to tear myself away from the computer just to go downstairs and pick up my delivery order."

The upcoming issue of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM5), a widely used mental health manual, will identify similar behaviours as an area that warrants further investigation.

That recognition is the latest victory for the growing number of mental health professionals who are calling for internet use disorder to be classified as an official mental health disorder.

Kimberly Young, founder of the Center for Internet Addiction, said classifying internet addiction as a mental health disorder would mean U.S. health insurance would cover treatment for such disorders and allow more people to access health resources.

However, not everyone thinks internet use disorder belongs in the mental health manual.

Allen Frances, professor emeritus at Duke University and former chair of its Department of Psychiatry, said the labelling trivializes mental health disorders and could lead to misdiagnoses.

After losing his scholarship and gaining unwanted weight, Vaisberg took part of an internet addiction recovery program in Washington State.

"My parents are happy, my family is happy. I feel a million times better than I ever did before," he said.

To hear the details, click on the play button in the audio player at the top of the story.