Beware! Prolonged Internet Use May Cause Psychotic Episodes

By Smriti Rao | January 18, 2010 1:00 pm

net-addictThere might just be some truth to the notion that excessive indulgence in the “interweb” makes people a tad–just a wee bit–cuckoo.

Research being conducted by the Clalit Health Maintenance Organization, Israel’s largest HMO, points to a possible connection between unrestricted Internet use and the occurrence of psychotic episodes.

According to the Israeli paper Haaretz, researchers presented three cases of individuals who experienced psychotic episodes in the wake of intensive, prolonged Web surfing that included the development of a close online relationship with another person. All the three subjects were women between the ages of 30 and 50 with no significant psychiatric history. Two of them had no previous history of mental problems, although one had been treated for anxiety in the past.

Each of the three ladies had experienced an unsatisfactory intimate relationship in the past, and developed a dependent relationship with a man over the Internet without ever meeting him face-to-face.

As Haaretz explains:

The subjects’ psychoses included a total disconnection from reality, and in the case of one of the women also involved tactile hallucinations; she imagined that she could feel the man with whom she was having a “virtual relationship” touching her.

Creepy. But here comes the scary part: The researchers said all three required psychiatric care in the past year after undergoing uncontrollable psychotic episodes accompanied by delusions and hallucinations. One of the women was referred to emergency psychiatric care, while two checked into clinics. All three needed anti-psychotic drugs to stop the episodes.

Happily, all three women recovered and are reportedly fine now.

Researcher Uzi Nitzan said that while a casual relationship cannot be established between internet use and psychotic episodes, the women in the study told researchers that their conditions intensified as they got increasingly involved with their cyber-amours.

Internet-related psychosis hasn’t yet appeared very much in scientific literature, but there have been some instances of internet delusions in individuals with a history of mental disorders.

Haaretz quotes Nitzan as saying:

“There are descriptions of patients who have developed delusions inspired by computer software or hardware, such as one man who believes that someone is trying to poison his fingers through his computer keyboard or to implant certain thoughts in his mind.”

OK, logging off now.

Related Content:
80beats: China Bans Electroshock Therapy For “Internet Addiction”
80beats: Have You Consumed Your 34-Gigabytes of Information Today
80beats: Cheescake is like Heroin to Rats on a Junk Food Diet

Image: Flickr/Mandiberg

  • Stanley H. Tweedle

    So, how many hours should a person spend each day, maximum?

  • Claire

    Just don’t “date” anyone you meet there!

  • TJ

    As a person suffering from a lifetime of emotional problems–only recently strong enough to visit a psychiatrist and a counselor, and only recently courageous enough to consider medication–I am dismayed that Discoblog is using the word “cuckoo” to describe a psychotic episode. Isn’t the stigma against mental illness strong enough already?

  • I went dutch on a date, but got gyped.

    TJ- you are right, but the English language is littered with derogatory terms. In many ways our language is a reflection of our culture, but don’t let that stop you from pushing back. The only way things seem to change here is through fighting. If it’s the good fight, it’ll be worth it.

  • parasvati

    Dear “I went dutch in a date but got gyped.”–
    Quotest Thou: “TJ- you are right, but the English language is littered with derogatory terms.”
    Yeah– like your name.
    I am a person of Romani descent from Amsterdam, who would like to say that you have your blind if well-meaning head up your wazoo (to all gentlepersons from Wazoo, I tender my most sincere apologies) and I hope the first thing you change in your pursuit of the “good fight” is your name. And your condescension. WAKE UP.

  • parasvati

    Excuse me, I have to go be with my internet lovah now.

  • Peter

    I realize that this is a small excerpt of a more significant study, but the nature of the “psychosis” and the complete recovery makes one wonder if this represents “imagination run amok” rather than a true psychosis.

    There are well established examples of prisoners of war retreating into imaginary worlds to escape the stresses of the POW experience – this is even taught to soldiers as a potential coping mechanism. These subjects “psychoses” seem more similar to this type of mental exercise (rather than a psychosis), albeit with a loss of control on the part of the subject.

    Anyone with thoughts on this hypothesis?

  • Peter

    Dear parasvati,

    I only recently learned that “gyp” was a clip of gypsy, and therefore a racially derogatory term, and have since removed it from my lexicon. Looking back on it, it seems so obvious I wonder why I didn’t figure it out for myself, but I didn’t. Occasionally I wonder if I am still unknowingly using similar terms.

    Sometimes the “good fight” is 1 part fight to 9 parts education.

    Mark Twain once said: “Never attribute to malice what can be attributed to stupidity.”

  • parasvati

    Yo! Samuel Clemens, raht ON. I heart Langhorne.
    For the record, I never attributed your remark to malice. Dummy! Oops! Ooh those dang derogatory terms! Apologies to all the smart deaf people. Shoot.

  • http://TwoSistersArtandSoul Lisette Root

    These women seemed to be self brainwashing, and I think it is possible for most people to be brainwashed, to varying degrees of course. Our brains are capable of producing many types of brain altering substances, and this seems to imply we are seeing a new type of trigger mechanism ( prolonged internet use). I think I’ll pay attention to this.

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