Constantly checking your Facebook and Twitter accounts? Internet addiction has long been disputed as one of the mental disorders of our age – now scientists warn that social networks overuse is a serious illness demanding treatment.
The issue is being discussed at the World Congress of the World Association for Dynamic Psychiatry (WADP) taking place in St. Petersburg, Russia.
All kinds of addictions are chronic recurring diseases, says Evgeny Krupitsky, chief drug therapist for the Leningrad region.
"They are illnesses the same as peptic ulcers, hypertonia or diabetes, and treatment is a long process, sometimes lifelong, combining personalized methods of drug therapy, psychotherapy and rehabilitation," Krupitsky told the forum.
Another issue discussed by the congress participants is wrong treatment for internet addictions. Scientists say that usually people who develop such disorders go to psychologists for help rather than medics.
But according to Aleksandr Kibitov, the head of a molecular genetics laboratory, social networks dependency works the same as alcohol, drug and toxic addictions with the only difference being a 'non-chemical nature.' He points out that genetic markers of the internet and social networking addictions are 80 percent the same as markers for alcohol and drug addicts.
Defining the nature of compulsive internet use is not the only problem.
Kibitov says that behavioral addictions, such as pathological gambling, internet addiction disorder and compulsive buying disorder are more difficult to study, because there is no way of doing laboratory experiments with animals.
“It’s hard to imagine a mouse addicted to social networks,” he said.
Internet addiction studies have developed as part of broader research on technology addiction, dating back to the 20th century featuring obsessions with radio and television.
Excessive internet use was first named a disorder back in the mid-1990s, and since then researchers have taken the matter seriously. Internet addiction disorder may be revised as an actual mental health disorder, but - although mired in controversy - it didn't make it to the latest edition of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) published by the American Psychiatric Association.