Google Glass User Becomes First Diagnosed for Internet Addiction Disorder

By Victoria Kim 10/15/14

A Navy serviceman sought treatment after experiencing irritability and frustration over not being able to use his Google Glass.

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The first reported case of internet addiction disorder has been treated, according to a new study published in the journal Addictive Behaviors.

The patient’s addiction to Google Glass surfaced when the man, a 31-year-old U.S. Navy serviceman, checked into the Navy’s Substance Abuse and Recovery Program (SARP) for alcoholism treatment in September 2013. It was noted that he “exhibited significant frustration and irritability related to not being able to use his Google Glass.” The Navy's 35-day residential treatment requires patients to avoid addictive behaviors including consuming alcohol, drugs, and cigarettes. Electronic devices are also not allowed.

Withdrawing from using the device was more difficult for the patient than abstaining from alcohol, according to Dr. Andrew Doan, head of addictions and resilience research with SARP and co-author of the paper on the patient. “He said the Google Glass withdrawal was greater than the alcohol withdrawal he was experiencing,” Doan said.

In the beginning of his treatment, the patient suffered from “involuntary movements to the temple area and short-term memory problems.” In the two months since he bought the device, he had also begun experiencing dreams as if viewed through the device’s small window. Doctors noticed the patient repeatedly tapping his right temple with his index finger, an involuntary mimic of the motion used to switch on the device. The man had been using the device for around 18 hours a day, removing it only to sleep and wash.

Internet addiction disorder is not recognized as a clinical diagnosis in the most recent version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the official reference guide to the field. But Doan believes internet addiction is real, and it is only a matter of time before research and treatment catch up.

“People used to believe alcoholism wasn’t a problem—they blamed the person or the people around them,” he said. “It’s just going to take a while for us to realize that this is real.”

According to the study, the patient “has a history of a mood disorder most consistent with a substance induced hypomania overlaying a depressive disorder, anxiety disorder with characteristics of social phobia and obsessive compulsive disorder, and severe alcohol and tobacco use disorders.”

After the patient’s residential treatment, he noticed a reduction in irritability and the involuntary movements to his temple, as well as improvements in his short-term memory and clarity of thought processes. However, the dreams about looking through the device’s lens continued. He was released and referred to a 12-step program for his alcohol abuse issues.

“There’s nothing inherently bad about Google Glass,” Doan told The Guardian, describing the danger of being so exposed to the neurological reward of using the device. “It’s just that there is very little time between these rushes. So for an individual who’s looking to escape, for an individual who has underlying mental dysregulation, for people with a predisposition for addiction, technology provides a very convenient way to access these rushes.”

“[T]he danger with wearable technology is that you're allowed to be almost constantly in the closet, while appearing like you’re present in the moment,” he added.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr