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Internet Addiction

Internet Addiction May Cause Brain Damage

The results of a small study conducted in China and published in the Jan. 11 issue of PLoS One suggests that Internet addiction can cause changes in the brain that are similar to the changes seen in drug and alcohol addiction. The researchers studied brain scans of 17 teens with Internet addiction. They found that the teens had “structural and functional interference in the part of the brain that regulates organization, possibly causing cognitive impairment similar to that caused by gambling and alcoholism.”

MRI results showed that the Internet addicted teens had abnormal white matter in brain regions involved in generating and processing emotions, decision making, and attention.

Internet Addiction May Cause Brain Damage: What is Internet addiction?

Internet addiction is pathological and compulsive computer use that interferes with daily life. The concept of Internet addiction is still highly debated. Experts disagree on whether or not it exists, and it is not yet included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).  Public concern, however, and this latest study by China, has led to a push to have the disorder included in this year’s edition of the DSM.

Are You Addicted to the Internet?

Internet Addiction May Cause Brain Damage: The Debate

There is research that links Internet use to addiction, depression, or other behavioral and psychiatric problems, but not enough information to determine a causal relationship. In other words, Internet addiction may not be the cause of these mental disorders, it may just be that people who have these problems may be more prone to go online. As for the brain changes, these same brain changes can be observed in anyone who engages in something pleasurable again and again. The brain changes alone cannot diagnose an addiction, and they aren’t limited to people with Internet addiction. People who do not compulsively use the Internet can experience the same brain changes.  Also, brain scans can’t tell which comes first, the brain abnormalities or the compulsive Internet use.

In addition, there is more evidence that the Internet can be used to treat anxiety and depression than there is that it causes these problems. Online therapy is becoming more widely accepted, and studies indicate that it is as effective as traditional therapy.

However, China, Taiwan, and Korea have accepted the diagnosis of Internet addiction and have begun treating people accordingly. Sensational media reports tell the story of the couple that neglected their infant to death while nourishing a virtual baby online or the young man who beat his mother with a bat for suggesting that he log off. The real questions are, are these just anecdotal incidents or is Internet addiction a real thing?

The jury is still out. Scientists and researchers have upped the ante on studying compulsive Internet use. However, the latest reports indicate that while Internet addiction will appear in the 2013 edition of DSM, it will be listed under an appendix tagged for “further study.” For now, “Internet addiction” has not been defined by the American medical community.

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