Why is There A Controversy Over Internet Addiction?

To learn more about this controversy, read Caught in the Net, the first recovery book about on-line behavior and addictive use of the Internet.

While many believe the term addiction should be applied only to cases involving the ingestion of a drug, many researchers have previously applied this same term to high-risk sexual behaviors, excessive television-viewing, compulsive gambling, computer overuse, and overeating without such controversy. Mental health professionals do not agree on what constitutes an "addiction."

The common argument is that we can be addicted only to physical substances to which we have a chemical response in our bodies. If our bodies our hooked, we're hooked. Well, recent scientific evidence suggests that it may be possible to experience habit-forming chemical reactions to behavior as well as substances. Scientists studying the effect of addictions on the brain have focused new attention on dopamine, a substance of the brain associated with pleasure and elation. Scientists believe that levels of dopamine may rise not only from taking alcohol or drugs, but from gambling, eating chocolate, or even from a hug or word of praise. And when something makes our dopamine level rise, we naturally want more of it. Other studies indicate that as our brain reacts to familiar stimuli it can alter our behavior without our ever really knowing it, which may explain our tendency to excessively repeat addictive patterns. Therefore, linking the term "addiction" solely to drugs creates an artificial distinction that strips the usage of the term for a similar condition when drugs are not involved. Ultimately, it is unclear whether physiologic reasons are responsible for all addictive behaviors, rendering the debate between substance-based and behavior-based addictions meaningless.

Another significant issue is that unlike chemical dependency, the Internet offers several direct benefits as a technological advancement in our society and not a device to be criticized as "addictive." The Internet allows a user a range of practical applications such as the ability to conduct research, to perform business transactions, to access international libraries, or to make vacation plans. Furthermore, several books have been written which outline the psychological as well as functional benefits of Internet use in our daily lives such as Howard Rheingold's book, The Virtual Community and Sherry Turkle's book, Life on the Screen. In comparison, substance dependence is not an integral aspect of our professional practice nor does it offer a direct benefit for its routine usage. Therefore, when one juxtaposes a term with such a negative connotation as "addiction" against a positive tool as the Internet, it is easy to understand why people will respond with criticism. However, even positive activities in life such as gambling, food, sex, or the Internet - can be considered an addiction when it causes significant life problems, or when a person loses self-control.

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APA Reference
Staff, H. (2008, December 20). Why is There A Controversy Over Internet Addiction?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 24 from

Last Updated: June 24, 2016

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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