We have talked about the problems facing the concept of IAD (Internet Addiction Disorder) before. We’re not saying anything new here. Until there is stronger, more conclusive research in this area, though, you should shy away from anyone looking to treat this problem, since it is a problem that seems to exist more in some professionals’ concept of dysfunction than in reality.
Researchers still can’t tell you exactly what Internet Addiction Disorder is, also known by the term “Pathological Internet Use” (PIU). Much of the original research was based upon the weakest type of research methodology, namely exploratory surveys with no clear hypothesis, agreed-upon definition of the term, or theoretical conceptualization. Coming from an atheoretical approach has some benefits, but also is not typically recognized as being a strong way to approach a new disorder. More recent research has expanded upon the original surveys and anecdotal case study reports. However, as I will illustrate below later, even these studies don’t support the conclusions the authors claim.
The original research into this disorder began with exploratory surveys, which cannot establish causal relationships between specific behaviors and their cause. While surveys can help establish descriptions of how people feel about themselves and their behaviors, they cannot draw conclusions about whether a specific technology, such as the Internet, has actually caused those behaviors. Those conclusions that are drawn are purely speculative and subjective made by the researchers themselves. Researchers have a name for this logical fallacy, ignoring a common cause. It’s one of the oldest fallacies in science, and one still regularly perpetrated in psychological research today.
Do some people have problems with spending too much time online? Sure they do. Some people also spend too much time reading, watching television, and working, and ignore family, friendships, and social activities. But do we have TV addiction disorder, book addiction, and work addiction being suggested as legitimate mental disorders in the same category as schizophrenia and depression? I think not. It’s the tendency of some mental health professionals and researchers to want to label everything they see as potentially harmful with a new diagnostic category. Unfortunately, this causes more harm than it helps people. (The road to “discovering” IAD is filled with many logical fallacies, not the least of which is the confusion between cause and effect.)