Reading This Could Be a Symptom


In their never-ending quest to classify every human foible as a "mental disorder," psychiatrists are pondering how to describe excessive Internet use. Under one proposal, "problematic use would be described as impulse control impairment not attributed to another known disorder." For diagnostic purposes, researchers at the University of Florida suggest a MOUSE test:

M is for "More than intended time spent online";

O is for "Other responsibilities neglected";

U is for "Unsuccessful attempts to cut down";

S is for "Significant relationships discord"; and

E is for "Excessive thoughts or anxiety when not online."

"The only way we as psychiatrists will figure out whether Internet addiction exists as a separate entity from other psychiatric illnesses is if we have consistent criteria to evaluate it," says one researcher. That's one way of looking at it. Or you could say that the "illness" will be brought into existence once the criteria are established.

[Thanks to Jeff Schaler for the link.]

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  1. So long as I can sue somebody after I get diagnosed.

    I’m a victim, no wait, It’s bad for the kids, hold on, It’s for the war on terror?

  2. The funny thing is that for years people bitched about people spending too much time in front of the tube, and now the internet has got people reading again and they want to say it is dangerous and addictive. For crying out loud, I guess we need to worry about our children spending too much time in the libraries, too.

    “Doctor, please help! I enjoy reading and I can’t stop. The internet just has too many interesting things to read. Please cure me so I can go sit my fat ass back on the couch and eat some potato chips again. Sit-coms were so much more fulfilling. Save me from myself!”

    I can’t wait until they put a knowledge tax on web sites for all of the “addicts” to get offline.

  3. Brady – I see your point, but keep in mind that the Internet can be used for things other than just reading, and some of those things can adversely impact one’s day-to-day life. Also, keep in mind that Internet use, like TV-watching, is a sedentary activity. Of course, as a Libertarian I realize that everyone must take responsibility for his/her own actions and moderate his/her own Internet use. But, Internet addiction can be a problem.

  4. Damn those pesky “excessive thoughts”…

  5. You know, they could really condense the DSM-V by just combining these all into a “we don’t like your kind” disorder. Or is not liking your kind a disorder, too?

  6. Damn, I hate when you read something like your school starting the ‘mouse’ test for internet addiction..

  7. I think excessive diagnosis of mental disorders is itself a disorder. We need a comprehensive educational, treatment, and research program to alleviate this disorder. We cant abandon our families to the epidemic of excessive diagnosis.

  8. What more can you expect from people who’s job is basically to work themselves out of a job? Gotta keep patients somehow. What better way than to keep “discovering” mental illnesses.

  9. Its not the net, its the porn that I am addicted too! Ashcroft, please help me with this addiction. Please put the smut peddlers behind bars and throw away the key! How can we lead productive lives with all those internet smut peddlers pushing their junk through my eye sockets!?!

    The government is just not doing enough to protect me! (Hows that for reactionary? 😉

  10. “Gotta keep patients somehow. What better way than to keep “discovering” mental illnesses.”

    Because without “patients,” or “environmental bugaboos,” or “eating, drinking, smoking, or sex bans,” or [fill in your favorite straw man] — we won’t get any of that government loot.

  11. Jacob,

    Dabbling in post-modern thought, eh?

  12. Candace:
    Actually, their job is not to work themselves out of a job. Out of all the hundreds of “diseases” listed in the DSM-V, they don’t have an actual cure for any of them. They can’t cure depression, ADD, anxiety, mathematics disorder or any of the other items listed. They can give you drugs which do make you feel differently, as anyone who has taken legal or illegal drugs knows, but they don’t actually cure anything.

  13. Brady,

    I had a teacher who was concerned that I read too much in middle school. It seemed that he thought that I shouldn’t be sitting under a tree reading during recess, but he might have just been tired of all the Robert Heinlein book reports I did.

  14. Jean Bart, the problem we have with psychiatry is that people are involuntarily treated, and involuntarily diagnosed. If you believe that you benefit from being labelled bipolar and get relief from medicine or such a diagnosis, no problem. Diagnosis should never be used as a weapon against those who live differently from us, otherwise, we could all diagnose all manner of human suffering and folly, and it becomes little more than a popularity contest than anything resembling science.

  15. Well, I guess I’m an Internet addict since I take all my news and political reading from that source. I’ve even been known to spend too much time debating drug warriors on message boards.

    But then, as a kid I read books compulsively. I doubt I can be helped…but is there a 12 Step program for what ails me?

  16. Joe Zwers,

    For those of who are bi-polar its better to have a flawed system, than none at all. I know my loved ones appreciate it; its aided me in not taking a dive head first off of a bridge. Essentially your comment would be similar to condemning a oncologist for imperfection in his field.

  17. I think that this post, thread, and the original material on which it was based are conspiring in a giant “fallacy of the undistributed middle.”

    Internet “addiction” is nothing more than a bad habit. But it is a bad habit that a lot of people have. Behavior modification for these people isn’t a bad idea. Diagnosing it as a disease is foolish and out of line.

    But that doesn’t mean that spending more time than you intended on the internet et. al. is somehow a good thing.

  18. What it seems nearly everyone is missing is that these things can only be considered a disorder if they have become harmful, changeworthy, and /if the person has actually tried to stop but failed/.

    I just don’t get why they want to name everything sepperately – it’s all the same damn thing, regardless of what particular behavior one is addicted to. You can pretty much track all obsessive and addictive behavior to narrow or singular sources of pleasure, release, and interest, such that everything else becomes a means to achieve those ends (and thus things like health, hygiene, other relationships, and employment take a dive right down the tubes). It almost entirely doesn’t matter what the details are, it would seem to me, because the cure is the same – find other things you like and get interested in them, and your dependance, obsession, and addiction will generally fall away, or at least be successfully managed simply because it is no longer a point of focus or strong relative value.

    The modern treatment of such behaviors is atrocious, and I heard one thing that particularly set this off for me, as it regards eating disorders: the problem with diets and the various health and eating programs is that they are all about food; it’s like telling an alchoholic “here, now I want you to pour this glass of liquor into this bottle, and then the bottle back to the glass, and the glass back to the bottle – but don’t drink it!” That would be horrible, because you are doing precisely the wrong thing – getting someone to focus on and obsess about what they are obsessed with in the first place!

    Much of this is however misunderstood and screwed up, as it is often based upon a belief or assumption that someone’s life should be in balance – in equilibrium – all the time. But this is fundamentally mistaken; one should, and pretty well does automatically, seek equilibrium and balance over time, but one must pick a given time period over which one judges whether or not one has attained it. I personally, for instance, tend to go on behavioral streaks, where I simply do something a very large amount of time (often consuming all my free time) for up to a month or so, and then abandoning the behavior completely for a period of time (there are multiple times in the past where I’ve read stacks of books over a weekly period, then read nearly nothing for the next month or so).

    Had I moderated this behavior out per day, judged over a period of a few months, one likely would see the same total amount of time spent on these activities, regardless if I did them on a daily moderated basis or in streaks and cycles. But had one looked at them on a daily basis, one might think me entirely ‘ill’.

    Now, indeed the involuntary nature of many uses of psychiatry are entirely wrong, but that is still a sepperate issue; much of the problem with psychology, and with all of medicine really, is that the customers – the patients – are so very ignorant of it. A business is only as good as the customers are informed and empowered, as humans are generally only as honest and honorable as they have to be to get the results they seek. Thus the various airlines in the US are utter shit, while other countries do so much better, largely because they simply can – luckily, however, most of them are going full speed ahead towards bankruptcy, precisely because the customers know it’s bad and whether or not they can get better treatment elsewhere.

    Given the general populaces knowledge of psychology and human/animal behavior, improvements in said treatment will be slow in coming, even if there is a free market in that particular sector. The world is an information game, where the better the information you have the better the results you can get.

    And so pop-psychology is largely shit, and the treatment of all sorts of real problems (as judged by the happiness of the individuals who have them and the results they individually attain) are rarely better than no treatment at all (take marital councelling as a general example – not too damn successful).

  19. Plutark,

    awesome analysis – I like it. I also have observed the ‘behavior streaks’ within my own life. It can be argued that some of this is necessary depending on your goals and place in life. For instance, I practiced guitar pretty intensely when was younger. It was necessary to build up my skills to a certain level in order to use them. Now I don’t have to practice so much just to maintain or improve them. Same thing with reading and studying when you are in college vs. when you are not. You have to put some things aside for a short while in order to gain specific knowledge, and then neglect them or moderate them later. If you really could spend 2 minutes a day working on everything in your life, you’d be spread too thin mentally to actually get anything done. You’d also never actually achieve any one thing until you died, which would be pretty impractical if you expect to earn a living or raise a family or anything like that.

    Of course, I think when such behavior becomes problematic (rather than pragmatic) is when the individual themselves start to recognize that doing a certain activity so much is interfering with something else they know they should be doing (or want to be doing), and maybe they have a hard time undoing a habit they’ve started. There is sound behavioral psychology behind why people do the same things over and over, and I see no harm in helping people to help themselves. The real problematic area is the coersive aspects, where someone else has decided you have a ‘problem’ and you don’t agree with them and they wish to use science (or the appearance of it) to force you to change your behavior. That is a different issue, which I think we all agree on here.

  20. EMAIL:
    DATE: 01/22/2004 01:05:37
    He who wishes to secure the good of others has already secured his own.

  21. EMAIL:
    DATE: 05/20/2004 05:29:30
    Newness is relative.

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