A new study, published in the January 11 issue of the online journal PLoS One, has linked addiction to online activity with changes in a person’s brain not unlike those that occur in alcoholics or drug addicts.
“Internet addiction disorder may be associated with abnormal white matter structure in the brain,” the statement said. “These structural features may be linked to behavioral impairments, and may also provide a method to study and treat the disorder.”
As part of the study, Hao Lei of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Wuhan and colleagues reportedly took MRI scans of the brains of 18 adolescents suffering from Internet addiction disorder (IAD).
Compared to their peers, the brains of IAD subjects “showed impairment of white matter fibers in the brain connecting regions involved in emotional processing, attention, decision making and cognitive control,” not online those addicted to substances like alcohol, pot, or cocaine, according to Jeremy Laurance of The Independent and the PLoS One statement.
“The researchers“¦ found that IAD is characterized by impairment of white matter fibers connecting brain regions involved in emotional generation and processing, executive attention, decision making, and cognitive control, and suggest that IAD may share psychological and neural mechanisms with other types of impulse control disorders and substance addiction,” the press release added.
According to Laurance, somewhere between 5% and 10% of all Internet users are said to be addicted to the activity, meaning that they cannot control their desire to be active online, often to the detriment of their work, schooling, social lives, hygiene, health and wellbeing. The researchers believe that these findings may make it possible to find new ways to try and treat this disorder.
“The majority of people we see with serious internet addiction are gamers — people who spend long hours in roles in various games that cause them to disregard their obligations,” Henrietta Bowden Jones, consultant psychiatrist at Imperial College, London, told Laurance. “I have seen people who stopped attending university lectures, failed their degrees or their marriages broke down because they were unable to emotionally connect with anything outside the game.”
However, in their paper, the authors admit that they cannot determine for certain whether or not the changes in the brain are the cause of the Internet addiction, or a result of IAD.
Likewise, Professor Michael Farrell, Director of the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at the University of New South Wales, told The Independent that the study was limited because it was “not controlled,” that it was possible that “illicit drugs, alcohol or other caffeine-based stimulants might account for the changes,” and that the diagnosis of IAD itself was “questionable.”
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