Internet Addiction Help – Is Internet Addiction Caused By Other Underlying Disorders?

There is ongoing debate among psychologists, counsellors, psychiatrists, and physicians about whether “Internet Addiction Disorder” should be considered a diagnosable mental health problem.

Organizations like the American Medical Association have, to date, rejected proposals to classify internet addiction as a mental disorder. This decision was largely based on insufficient research and scientific consensus on the addictive nature of the internet and certain online games.

Because it is not yet an officially recognized disorder, Internet Addition has found itself suffering from a bit of an identity crisis – sometimes being referred to as “excessive”, “problematic”, or “unhealthy” computer use. The use of these terms obviously places the emphasis on the harmful behavior rather than diagnosing the individual him/herself as addicted.

Internet Addiction: A “Catch-All” Term

Further complicating the issue is the fact that the term internet addiction is somewhat of a catch-all label for problems associated with excessive use of computers or technology. For example, the term has been use to describe compulsive online gambling, pornography use, texting, chatting, social networking, web surfing, online shopping, and video gaming.

The Symptom of an Underlying Problem or the Cause?

Numerous theories have been proposed to help explain why certain individuals become addicted to the internet and why certain online activities may be more likely to encourage unhealthy patterns of use. For example, it has been suggested that some people may turn to the internet to avoid feelings of depression, loneliness, shyness, and anxiety. This of course assumes that online addiction is a symptom of an underlying problem rather than a problem in and of itself.

Others argue just the opposite – that internet and computer addiction can bring on mental health problems like depression and anxiety.

Because online addiction is such a new problem and not yet well understood by mental health professionals (at least compared to other issues such as depression and anxiety), individuals seeking help for internet and computer addiction may encounter doctors, therapists, and psychologists who adopt one of the polarized views above.

For example, consider someone struggling with both depression and online addiction – something that is actually quite common.

One therapist may conclude that the depressed mood is clearly the primary issue and that the excessive internet use is “obviously just a symptom of depression and the person’s way of distracting himself from underlying negative feelings.” Another therapist may conclude that internet addiction is clearly the primary issue and that the depression is “obviously just the natural consequence of spending so much time online disconnected from the real world.”

Depending on the presenting problems, both of these approaches may be a disservice to the client.

A More Complex Relationship Between Internet Addiction and Mental Health Problems

As is often the case with issues like this one, the true relationship between internet addiction and other disorders may be more complex than either of these two extremes:\

  • Other psychological disorders can (certainly) exist independently of internet addiction
  • Other psychological disorders can (very likely) be the underling cause of excessive online use
  • Internet addiction can (quite likely) exist independently of other psychological disorders
  • Internet addiction can (very possibly) increase the likelihood of developing other psychological disorders
  • And finally, both internet addiction and other psychological disorders can (almost certainly) exist simultaneously with one feeding off the other and as a consequence, maintaining or intensifying the symptoms of both

Allostasis and Addiction

The term addiction, in medical terminology means a psychiatric disorder manifested by unusual craving and compulsive indulgence of certain activities like drug addiction, alcohol addiction, gambling, video game, crime, money work addiction, overeating, nicotine or pornographic addiction. In fact there is no end of the list but since these substances or activities always brings negative impact on individual and social life; so they are specially earmarked. Addiction can also be described as a compulsive obsession and create excessive psychological dependence in addicts on their individual preference.

However, the term addiction is used commonly to mean psychological dependence and usually attached to drug or substance abuse problems. But it is also used for problems like compulsive overeating or alike; though medical communities do not recognize them as problems of addiction. There are addictions that are not substance related; like gambling and computer addiction. In these sorts of cases addiction means a recurring compulsion felt by individual to engage in some particular activity without considering its harmful consequences.

Different forms of addiction
In United States, the term “addiction” is not used in Diagnostic and Statistical Manual Disorders (DSM -IV TR) instead it uses “substance dependence” for physical dependence, abuse of or withdrawal from any substances or drugs. The section Substance dependence states “…. When an individual persists in use of alcohol or other drugs despite problems related to use of the substance, substance dependence may be diagnosed. Compulsive and repetitive use may result in tolerance to the effect of the drug and withdrawal symptoms when use is reduced or stopped. These, along with substance abuse are considered substance use disorders……..” Terminology is divided between psychiatrists and physicians; as former call this problem or disease as psychological dependence or addiction and the later as physical or substance dependence.

Now there is trend to distinguish between physical dependence characterized by withdrawal symptoms and psychological dependence manifested by “compulsive, uncontrolled use” with no harm being suffered by user or any one. Clinically it is termed as “compulsive” but not necessarily addiction.

There is a lesser known factor called pseudo-addiction. This occurs when a patient seeks drugs after being treated with that for longer period. This reflects psychological dependence or addiction but sometime it may happen so that the patient might have been under treated as well. Such cases are numerous when patients are treated with opiates drugs to relieve them from pains. Treating them adequately tends to remove such dependence. More studies are required for the effectiveness or substitutes of addictive drugs like opiates.

Allostasis : What is it?
When a person is inclined to drug or substance addiction, he or she then appears to enter a new state called allostatic state departing from normal levels of change in ordinary condition. Allostasis is a process of maintaining stability while changing behavior and physiological features. Drug addiction causes harm to the addict’s brain and body due to pathological state caused by damage known as allostatic load. The result of allostatic load is a state of constant depression stemming from allostatic changes. This forces the drug abusers to seek drugs before their brain and body returns to normal allostatic levels; thus producing a constant state of stress. It is observed that the presence of circumstantial stressors induce acute drug seeking tendencies.

Allostasis is a new concept proposed by Sterling and Eyer in 1988. This is a process that establishes the stability in an emergency and occurs endogenously in our physiological system to maintain balance. The word allostasis and homeostasis derived from original Greek words; “homeo” means “same” and stasis means “stable”; so homeostasis means “remaining stable by staying the same”. So with the word allostasis; in Greek “allo” means “variable” and statis means “stable”; so allostasis means ” remaining stable by being variable”. Allostasis is a process to achieve stability through physiological or behavioral change and this can be done by altering HPA axis ( hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis) hormones, cytokines, autonomic nervous system or many other systems and they are generally short term.

The process of allostasis is fundamental and this helps organisms to adjust or adapt actively to predictable or unpredictable events of life. Allostatic loads refer to the cumulative cost; the allostasis body pays to regain stability. Allostatic overload may result in serious pathophysiology. There are two types of allostatic overloads proposed which result in response of followings:

Type – I: This is when allostatic overload is caused due to increased demand of energy exceeds the supply and that result in emergency life history stage. When perturbation passes normalcy restored decreasing allostatic load.

Type – II: Allostatic overloads occur when demand of energy increases with social conflict or any type of social dysfunction. In these cases the normalcy restored by secretion of glucocorticosteroids and activities of other allostasis mediators like CNS neurotransmitters, autonomic nervous system, inflammatory cytokines wax. However if allostatic loads remain chronically high then pathologies develop. It is something like this, if a dehydrated individual continue to be stressed despite being helped then he fails to reinstate the body function. This will result in wearing out of individual’s body. Though human body is adaptable but fails to bear allostatic overload for a very longer period without hazards.

The adaptogens may come in help to curb allostatic load. Adaptogens are herbal or pharmaceutical substance; they are non-toxic in regular doses and produce defensive response of nonspecific nature to stress. They restore normalcy in HPA axis. Adaptogens are new class of metabolic regulators for homeostatic and allostatic changes, toning down the hyperfunctioning systems activity or increasing hypofunctioning systems.

Allostasis and Drug Addictions
Drug addiction or substance dependence is a chronic disorder manifested by a compulsive tendency to take and seek drugs or substances to manage the levels of compulsion and desires brought on by allostatic overload. Continuous increase of intake raises the hedonic level and overtakes the individual by a negative emotional state when without them. Allostatic changes helps to identify the effects and causes of drug addiction in the neurobiological and neuroadaptive systems. The reward system of the brain in the event of drug addiction implicates some key elements of amygdale basal forebrain macrostructure. The change in stress and reward system of the brain appears to maintain stability in allostatic state in contradiction to homeostatic state; so this shows the development of susceptibility and recurrence of addiction. The allostatic state of longer abstinence is the most useful target for treating drug addiction through pharmacological and behavioral therapies. When dealing with recovery from addiction it’s important for the patient to be cognizant of the brain functions occurring and by being fully aware of how the component of allostasis relates to ones addiction.

What Causes Addiction?

Addiction causes are not yet fully understood.

The prevailing attitude toward addiction has been disapproval as addiction was seen as personal failure, resulting from moral  weakness and a lack of discipline. The stigma has not been entirely lost and scientific evidence suggests that addition is primarily a biological phenomenon.

In some circles addiction has been described as a disease of the brain.

Addiction researchers have asserted that alcoholism and other dependent states have a genetic bases. Alcohol dependence was thought to be influenced by genes as well as the environment as the risk for alcohol related problems seemed to be higher in the children of alcoholics.

While studies may support the genetic predisposition, identifying the specific genes that lead to the increased risk of addiction has been laborious, but it has been confirmed that that people with a different form of a certain gene are more susceptible to addiction. It is hope that further research into gene therapy can actually lead to the development of new treatment for alcoholics and other drug dependencies.

Research documenting the impact of drugs on the brain may shed some light on why some people may be more prone to addiction than others.

Drug abuse along with other potentially addictive activities such as gambling, sex, or some cases shopping causes the brain to brain to release dopamine, a chemical involved in experiencing pleasure. The surge in dopamine production appears to be powerful enough to compel the user to keep taking the drug or engaging in the behaviour. With prolonged use, the drugs can alter the brain so that experiencing pleasure without the drug is near impossible. and at this point the drug is used to stave off painful withdrawal symptoms. Based on the research, the theory has been surmised that people who are deficient in dopamine are more likely to become addicts.

While most agree that biology may play an important part in addiction, there is still some division, as one group believes that addiction is primarily a behavioral problem that is influenced by biology. They contend that labeling addiction as medical condition similar to diabetes or heart disease can create a false impression that addicts have no control over their own behavior. In the view of this group, people become addicts mostly because of their behavior and not brain chemistry.

There is still very much to learn about how the brain actually works and research is continuing and questions are still being asked.

Critics contend the medical theory of addiction may be flawed, because most people who take drugs do not become addicted.

Addiction to nicotine, which is purportedly more addictive than heroin, can be kicked solely on willpower. The dopamine theory has also come under some criticism with the assertion that the range of activities that stimulate the pleasure centers in the brain far too wide to denote any behavioral tendencies. Addiction to sex, chocolate,work or eating are not related. “Chocolate stimulates the pleasure centers, but only a few people may compulsively eat chocolate or gamble”

The contrasting perspectives on addiction, biological or behavioral has influenced debate over the best treatment for addiction.

Counseling and medication is favored by those who believe that addiction is a disease and believe that controlled abstinence may be  the best way to break the habit.

In contrast,opponents of the disease model may insist that addiction can be treated without any psychological or medical intervention.

Research and studies continues to be warranted into finding the best and most effective treatment for addiction.