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Friday, August 29, 2008

West slow to take on Net addiction: Psychiatrist

Nine computer games are purchased every second in the US; two-thirds of Americans, or around 200 million people, play videogames; 2% of US gamers, or about 4 million people, "are heavy users" averaging around 40 hours of play a week; and 66 million (a third) play around 20 hours/week. That's data cited by Jerald Block, an Oregon-based psychiatrist, in British cultural and political magazine The Standpoint. He's writing about Internet addiction, "or the more accurate and general term Pathological Computer Use (PCU)," which he says is "not an established diagnosis but one that might be included in the next version of the mental-health diagnostic guidebook, the DSM-V," which will be out in 2012. A doctor in the US or Europe would probably not know what to do with the information that you're spending 40+ hours a week playing videogames. "Dealing with such matters is not part of our training," Dr. Block writes. "In Asia, however, you would probably get a psychiatric diagnosis. Because doctors in Asia … recognise excessive computer use as a serious issue." Block goes on to describe what PCU patients' symptoms and behaviors are like from a physician's perspective, including a description of what virtual-reality "cybering" can now be like and addicts' unsettlingly, progressively blurry distinction between reality and virtual reality.

But all that's about diagnosis, he writes in his conclusion. Treatment is an entirely different, very difficult proposition. "The uncomfortable truth is that our treatment strategies [worldwide] for this malady are inadequate and often fail. Until we learn more or have better clinical tools, our best approach may be to work on prevention." [See also "'SIGNS' of Net addiction: Interview."]

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