For the first time, a study on internet addiction is being funded by The National Institutes of Health, a signal that the problems stemming from excessive internet use may finally be getting the serious attention it deserves from the U.S. mental health community.
The two-year study kicks off this week and is being conducted at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine. It may ultimately help to determine whether internet addiction, specifically online gaming, should be listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders — widely known as the DSM-5 — as a true mental health disorder.
The lead investigator of the study, Dr. Nancy Petry, also happens to be part of the American Psychiatric Association Workgroup on Substance Use and Related Disorders for the DSM-5 and chaired the subcommittee on non-substance-use addictive disorders. According to her, in 2013, when the DSM-5 was last published, there "wasn't sufficient evidence to conclude that internet gaming addiction is a condition that can be reliably or accurately ascertained in people."
There still isn't, she says, but this new study may provide the data necessary to move internet gaming addiction, currently listed in the appendix of the DSM as a "condition that needs further research," into the main manual as an official disorder — providing sufferers the possibility of one day being insured for treatment. "Having something listed as a disorder affects reimbursement in this country. That's a huge thing," Dr. Petry told CNBC.
"A lot of people have developed such severe problems with gaming," she said. "They stay up all day and game for 24 hours, and there is evidence that they are dropping out of school; they are losing their jobs; they are losing their families." She adds that those with gaming addictions are primarily male and have co-morbidities, such as ADHD.
Many other countries — including Australia, China, Japan, India, Italy, Japan, Korea and Taiwan— already officially recognize tech addiction as a disorder, some even going so far as to declare the issue a public health crisis, leading governments and health-care providers to develop a series of major initiatives to curb the problem. But the discrepancies in the numbers of gamers diagnosed with addiction across the countries have spurred much debate over the accuracy of the criteria being used.