How The Brain Responds To Internet Addiction

How The Brain Responds To Internet Addiction

Many of us feel that we use the Internet too much, but some individuals may be at risk of developing an addiction. A new study unveils the possible physical changes in the brain caused by this dependency.

Prevalence Of Internet Addiction 

Professionals in many fields have debated whether or not technology addiction could be officially classified as a mental illness, but a rise in new research is substantiating the suspicion that these addictions are very real. Addiction to the Internet has become so prevalent that it now carries an official title: Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD).

IAD is characterized by an excessive use of the Internet that consumes a user, and draws him or her away from ordinary daily functioning. Sufferers of IAD lose track of long periods of time online, and find themselves increasingly socially withdrawn. They have trouble focusing on non-Internet related tasks at home and at work, and may be very defensive about their use of the Internet. Some users experience a euphoria while online, using it as an escape from daily stressors and unpleasant situations. All of the above behaviors cumulatively create a dependency.

Classification As A Real Disorder

Technology addictions have largely been ignored by professionals, who consider it in a separate, insignificant category compared to more physical addictions like alcoholism or illegal drug abuse. However, there have been severe consequences of technology addiction (aka “screen addiction”), going untreated.

In 2008, a 21-year-old in South Korea was found dead in his home, after refusing to leave a video game for long enough to seek medical attention when he experienced difficulty breathing. In 2011, a 20-year-old video game enthusiast died from a blood clot after spending a consistent 12 hours per day playing video games.

Chemical Changes In The Brain

A study recently published in Plos One, a journal of the Public Library of Science, indicates that the brain will respond to Internet addiction in much the same way it would to any physical substance dependency, such as alcohol or narcotics. The study, which involved 25 men and women between 14 and 21 years old, attempted to explore the differences in brain physiology between addicts and non-addicts. Half the population was identified as having IAD.

The research found that addicted individuals suffered significant changes in the portion of the brain responsible for cognitive functions, executive thinking and processing emotion. In individuals with IAD, this portion of the brain revealed abnormal nerve fiber connections, which are a characteristic of those suffering from alcoholism or other forms of impulse control disorders.

A Valid Concern

The recent evidence only adds more validation to the growing consensus that technology-related addiction disorders are real, and should warrant dedicated studies. Recent deaths and health complications related to individuals overusing video games and the Internet are being reported, and as a result, more attention in the media and in the fields of psychology and psychiatry is being devoted to understanding these symptoms.

Because the latest study recorded evidence that the brain undergoes physical changes, researchers will be able to more fully explore the causes and possible treatments for the addiction.

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