The next edition of psychiatry's diagnostic manual, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual V, will include a listing for Internet-Use Disorder as a condition worth studying.
Stopping short of creating the diagnosis in this edition of the manual (number 5), creators of the DSM have, nonetheless, the set the stage for possible inclusion of Internet-Use Disorder as a recognized illness in future editions.
I am not a fan of the American Psychiatric Association's (APA's) habit of creating new diagnostic categories and jettisoning others by committee, which seems to occur with every new iteration of its official manual, sometimes without firm scientific rationale. And I think they would have been wiser to call for a massive effort at the National Institutes of Mental Health to investigate the negative psychological effects of the Internet (and other technologies).
But the APA is clearly onto something and could still help lead the way in trying to defeat what I believe will be the greatest psychiatric epidemic of all time: The loss of reality and sense of self that the Internet, social networking, computer gaming and reality TV are causing, leading to pathological, delusional narcissism – generations who can't see themselves for who they are, or the world for what it is, or find real solutions to pressing, even catastrophic problems in their personal lives, the lives or their children or the life of our culture.
As I have written here before, Facebook, Twitter, SecondLife, instant messaging, computer gaming (via Wii and XBox) and even the use of GPS are making it possible for tens of millions of Americans to believe things which are not true about themselves and to lose their ability to find real direction in life. They can believe they have hundreds or thousands of friends (which is both false and intoxicating to the ego).
They can, without prompting concern, post hundreds of photos of themselves for their "friends" to see (an act that would have been considered bizarrely self-centered just 10 years ago). They can believe it is important to notify their "followers" of their whereabouts or exploits (when they have no real followers, don't really deserve any and are screaming into the void – again, in a dizzying display of self-hype.) They can pretend to be NFL football players or rock stars and actually get excited – despite the fact none of it is true – by the competition or performance.
The Internet and other technologies and forms of entertainment I have noted are the most dangerous class of drugs the world has ever known. First, a larger population is exposed than has been exposed to any drug in the entire history of our species. Children as young as two are introduced to it by their parents. The elderly are introduced to it by their children. It has achieved widespread social acceptance. It feels empowering when it is dis-empowering.
And the fact that it – the Internet, in this case – is the way in which you are receiving this very message from me, shows how this class of drugs can snake its way through most attempts to contain it, almost like a third strand of psychological DNA coiling around the helix that defines us as human and alive, ultimately shutting down what it means to be truly (word choice intentional) emotional, empathetic, talented, committed, courageous, loving and loved.
What is called for is a Presidential initiative not unlike The Manhattan Project or NASA, which pulled together the best minds available to solve a massive public need or goal. This one is to address the greatest, most toxic, most virulent epidemic ever known on the planet: What I call The Delusion Disease.
Keith Ablow, MD is a psychiatrist, and was host of the nationally-syndicated "Dr. Keith Ablow Show." He is a former member of the Fox News Medical A Team.