Internet to Sex: Defining Addiction
Addiction is used to describe everything from the Internet to shopping to sex. So how do you tell when something really becomes an addiction?
Dangerous Online Habit continued...
Greenfield, who has authored a book called Virtual
Addiction, is one of several mental health experts that recognize Internet
addiction as a growing problem, certainly one that could facilitate other
compulsions. He says that 6%-10% of online users are addicted to the Web, and
about half of them visit porn sites or have cybersex chats.
His estimations appear similar to the figures used by the
Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery, which put the number of addicted
Internet users at 5%-10% of those online.
The institute has compiled the findings of various studies on
addictions and has determined the following: Of the general population, 8%-10%
are addicted to alcohol or chemicals, 1.5%-3% to gambling, 1%-3% to food, 5% to
sex, and 2%-8% to spending.
There are specialists, however, who question the legitimacy of
the use of the word "addiction" in relation to various topics.
The term, critics say, may now be used too loosely.
Conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh recently
confessed to his listeners that he was addicted to painkillers. Actress Halle
Berry's estranged husband, Eric Benet, reportedly checked himself into a
rehabilitation center last year for treatment of a sex addiction.
There's certainly nothing new about addictions among
celebrities and common folk, but the type of compulsive behavior reported
appears to be more varied. It seems people used to talk only of alcohol or drug
addiction. Now, the discussion also involves things such as food, sex,
shopping, gambling, and the Internet.
The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) describes
addiction as a compulsive behavior with a continued craving to use a
Although ASAM neither favors nor opposes treatment for other
problems, the organization's president, Lawrence Brown, MD, MPH, does believe
that the term addiction is often misused.
"Most people know someone who they think is an
'addict,'" he says. "What they mean by that, if you ask 10 people, you
may likely get 10 different answers -- even among my esteemed
Brown says his group is only concerned about matters that are
scientifically proven to be a great public health concern. He notes the
overwhelming data on the negative consequences of alcohol, tobacco, and illegal
drugs. This is why ASAM is currently focusing efforts only on addictions to
On the other hand, psychiatrist Michael Brody, MD, a spokesman
for the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, defines addiction
with the following criteria:
- A person needs more and more of a substance or behavior to keep him or her
- If the person does not get more of the substance or behavior, she or he
becomes miserable and irritable.
An addiction can apply to anything from caffeine to the
Internet, says Brody.
Regardless of the debate on the terminology, the fact is that
compulsive use of things such as the Internet exists and causes real problems,
says Greenfield. He also notes that people who abuse the Internet show the same
characteristics as those who abuse drugs or alcohol. These warning signs of
- Greater sense of isolation
- Diminished social interaction
- Reduced attention to personal hygiene
- More legal difficulties
- Change in eating and sleeping patterns
- Increased irritability
- Reluctance to change the compulsive behavior