According to an expert in the U.S., sending excessive text messages and e-mails may be an indication of a mental illness.
Psychiatrist Dr. Jerald Block says there are four specific symptoms: suffering from feelings of withdrawal when a computer cannot be accessed; an increased need for better equipment; need for more time to use it; and experiencing the negative repercussions of their addiction.
He says although text messaging was not directly linked to the Internet, it was a form of instant messaging and needs to be included among the criteria.
Dr. Block believes there are a number of reasons which need to be considered - motor vehicle accidents are caused by cell phone instant messaging, stalking and harassment via instant messaging, and instant messaging at social, educational and work functions where it creates problems.
Dr. Block says it is a common disorder with a pervasive and problematic pattern rather than isolated incidents and addiction to e-mail and texting is better documented in Asian countries such as South Korea.
Research on Internet addiction in Internet cafés in South Korea has revealed deaths from heart attacks and a game-related murder.
He says it falls within the compulsive-impulsive spectrum disorders and involves online and/or offline computer usage and can include excessive gaming, sexual preoccupations, and e-mail/text messaging.
All the behaviours can result in a loss of sense of time or a neglect of basic drives, withdrawal, feelings of anger, tension, and/or depression when the computer is inaccessible.
There also appears to be an excessive need for better computer equipment, more software, or more hours of use which often result in arguments, lying, poor achievement, social isolation, and fatigue.
South Korea estimates that approximately 210,000 South Korean children ages 6-19 are afflicted and require treatment, the majority with psychotropic medications, and up to 24% are hospitalised.
South Korea has trained 1,043 counselors in the treatment of Internet addiction and enlisted over 190 hospitals and treatment centers and preventive measures are now being introduced into schools.
China is also concerned about the disorder but in the United States, accurate estimates of the prevalence of the disorder are scant.
Dr. Block says despite the cultural differences, the case is much the same elsewhere, where the same issues appear.
Dr. Block says unfortunately, Internet addiction is resistant to treatment, entails significant risks and has high relapse rates.
The article is published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.