|To determine whether someone is spending an unhealthy amount of time with computers, two University of Florida psychiatrists have developed guidelines for doctors. |
Web surfing, e-mailing, instant messaging, gaming, shopping, downloading music and visiting chat rooms become troublesome when they interfere with someone's job or social life, said Dr. Nathan Shapira of UF's Evelyn F. and William L. McKnight Brain Institute.
The challenge for health care professionals is to determine when high Internet use is dysfunctional, and whether unhealthy Internet use is a lone disorder or a byproduct of other disorders, such as manic depression.
Writing in the current issue of the journal Depression and Anxiety, UF scientists propose criteria to diagnose problematic Internet use that they formulated on the basis of their research findings and other data.
In a related article, published recently in Current Psychiatry, UF researchers presented five questions to help practitioners get a sense of their patients Internet use. The points revolve around the acronym MOUSE: More than intended time spent online; Other responsibilities neglected; Unsuccessful attempts to cut down; Significant relationship discord because of use; and Excessive thoughts or anxiety when not online.
Shapira devised the criteria after conducting face-to-face psychiatric evaluations of 20 volunteers who identified themselves as having problems with the Internet and 17 randomly selected college students with varying levels of Internet use.
Volunteers who called themselves problematic Internet users had, on average, five pre-existing psychiatric problems, such as bipolar disorder, depression or alcohol abuse, he said.
Additionally, they were online more than 30 hours per week, and their non-essential Internet use was 10 times greater than their essential use, such as job- and school-related activities.
High internet usage isn’t always bad, apparently. 'It's very useful for some people to spend high amounts of time on the Internet for work, school and recreation,' said Jeffrey I. Cole, director of the University of California, Los Angeles Center for Communications Policy. 'For the vast majority of Americans, Internet use doesn't come at the expense of other activities.'
Shapira submitted a chapter on problematic Internet use for an upcoming volume of the Handbook of Impulse Control Disorders, a publication of the American Psychiatric Association, at the request of the editors.