"Internet addiction is a 'clinical disorder'
British psychiatrists have previously reported that between five and 10 per cent of online users are internet addicts
Sufferers spend unhealthy amounts of time playing online games, viewing pornography or emailing.
They suffer four symptoms: They forget to eat and sleep; they need more advanced technology or more hours online as they develop 'resistance' to the pleasure given by their current system; if they are deprived of their computer, they experience genuine withdrawal symptoms; And in common with other addictions, the victims also begin to have more arguments, to suffer fatigue, to get lower marks in tests and to feel isolated from society.
Early research into the subject found highly educated, socially awkward men were the most likely sufferers but more recent work suggests it is now more of a problem for middle-aged women who are spending hours at home on their computers.
Psychiatrist Dr Jerald Block said some sufferers were so addicted to the internet that they required medication or even hospital treatment to curb the time they spent on the web.
He said: "The relationship is with the computer. It becomes a significant other to them. They exhaust emotions that they could experience in the real world on the computer through any number of mechanisms: emailing, gaming, porn."
He added: "It's much more acceptable for kids to talk about game use, whereas adults keep it a secret. Rather than having sex, or arguing with their wife or husband, or feeding their children, these adults are playing games."
Dr Block, of the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, in the USA, first made the claims in an editorial for the American Journal of Psychiatry.
British psychiatrists have previously reported that between five and 10 per cent of online users are internet addicts.