Some doctors, like Thomas Hodgkin, are celebrated for identifying a disease; others, like Jonas Salk for
defeating one. But Dr. Ivan K. Goldberg may be the first in his field to gain notoriety for naming a disease
that he says doesn't exist.
Dr. Goldberg, a burly, bearded Upper East Side psychiatrist, allots two hours each day to browsing the
bulletin boards of PsyCom.Net, a cyberclub for shrinks which he founded in 1986. Two years ago, he
decided to play a little joke on the members by posting a parody of the Amerlcan Psychiatric Association's
"Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders."
To demonstrate thc handbook's complexity and rigidity, he conjured up something called "Internet
addiction disorder" (I.A.D.), the symptoms of which included "important social or occupational activities
that are given up or reduced because of Internet use," "fantasies or dreams about the Internet," and
"voluntary or involuntary typing movements of the fingers."
Much to Dr. Goldberg's surprise, several colleagues admitted to "netaholism" and E-mailed for help. Dr.
Goldberg indulged his suffering peers, setting up the Internet Addiction Support Group on-line.
Word of the group spread faster than a computer virus. Hundreds of self-described addicts--some
claiming to surf the Net twelve hours a day posted their pain. "I did have a RL (real life) prior to this
"electronic talce-over," one user bemoaned." My computer's keyboard has worn off after less than a
year." Another confessed, "I've been thinking of getting a second home phone installed in order to be able
to talk to my family once in a while. I currently subscribe to eighty-nine newsgroups."
Concern about excessive Internet use began cropping up in other places.
The University of Maryland at College Park offered a counselling group, called Caught in the Net, for
McLean Hospital, the renowned mental-health facility in Belmont, Massachnsetts, established a new clinic
for computer junkies.
Dr. Kimberly Young, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford,
announced the formation of a Center for On-Line Addiction to help corporations ferret out employees who
point and click compulsively.
In a recent article in the Times, Dr. Young was quoted as calling for the American Psychiatric Association
to give official recognition to the disorder--an action that would pave the way for insurance companies to
reimburse addicts for therapy. ("Unlikely," commented Dr. Patricia Isbell Ordorica, chairwoman of the
A.P.A.'s council on addiction psychiatry.) In the past year, at least two more Internet-addiction support
groups have sprung up.
Meanwhile, the medical pioneer behind I.A.D. is alarmed by what he has, in part, wrought. Speaking the
other day from a rocking chair in his Lexington Avenue office, where he specializes in the treatment of
manic-depressives, Dr. Goldberg said that since last July he has redefined I.A.D. as "pathological
Internet-use disorder." He explained, "I.A.D. is a very unfortunate term. It makes it sound as if one were
dealing with heroin, a truly addicting substance that can alter almost eveny cell in the body. To medicalize
every behavior by putting it into psychiatric nomenclature is ridiculous. If you expand the concept of
addiction to include everything people can overdo, then you must talk about people being addicted to
books, addicted to jogging, addicted to other people."
Although Dr. Goldberg said, with a chuckle, that having an I.A.D. support group "makes about as much
sense as having a support group for coughers," he remains a contributor to the Internet addicts' forum.
Unconcerned that he might be regarded as an "enabler," he posts a message to members every six months
or so. "I try to remind people that they need to look at why they are on-line," he said. "People should get
themselves into Psychotherapy and work out why they hide behind a keyboard. But most people just tell
me to buzz off."