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Is Internet Addiction a Mental Disorder?

OHSU’s Jerald Block, M.D., proposes adding the condition to a highly-regarded psychiatrist handbook used to diagnose patients

An OHSU psychiatrist has proposed that Internet addiction and other compulsive uses of the computer be officially listed in a manual used by psychiatrists worldwide to diagnose mental disorders. The editorial, written by Jerald Block, M.D., (faculty appointment) is published in the March edition of the American Journal of Psychiatry.

“There are at least three known forms of compulsive computer use: excessive computer gaming, preoccupations with sexual content and email or text messaging,” explained Block. “These compulsive behaviors can have very serious health and social consequences ranging from fatigue, depression, social isolation and poor work performance. In some very extreme cases, those addicted to Internet use have suffered cardiopulmonary-related deaths.”

As Block points out in his editorial, studies from South Korea suggest that Internet addiction is one of the country’s most serious public health issues. Scientists there believe that 2 percent (210,000) of Korean children suffer from one form of Internet addiction or another. In China, experts believe that almost 14 percent of adolescent Internet users are considered to be addicted.  In both of these countries, Web use is more public due to the prevalence of Internet cafes.  In the United States, the prevalence of Internet addiction is more difficult to estimate because Internet use is often confined to the home.      

Block believes that Internet addiction and its associated disorders should be included in the Diagnostic and Statistical manual of Mental Disorders which is widely used by psychiatrists to diagnose mental illness. The next edition of the manual is due out in 2012.

“About 80 percent of those who suffer from Internet addiction also suffer from some other form of mental illness,” explained Block. He adds that therapists in the United States may have difficulty detecting Internet addiction where providers in other countries are taught how to screen for it.          


About OHSU

Oregon Health & Science University is the state’s only health and research university, and Oregon’s only academic health center. OHSU is Portland's largest employer and the fourth largest in Oregon (excluding government), with 12,400 employees. OHSU's size contributes to its ability to provide many services and community support activities not found anywhere else in the state. It serves patients from every corner of the state, and is a conduit for learning for more than 3,400 students and trainees. OHSU is the source of more than 200 community outreach programs that bring health and education services to every county in the state.

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