Many people are dubious about whether a person can actually become addicted to the internet. A new study may just dispel some of these doubts. Research has found that people who claim to be addicted to the internet have similar brain patterns to those found in people struggling with alcoholism and drug addiction.A recent study in China has shown that Internet addiction affects the brain in the same way as any other addiction. It can cause changes to the brain that only occur when alcoholism or cocaine addiction is present. The study involved 17 Chinese teenagers who were given MRI scans. Some of the teenagers were self-described Internet addicts, who claimed they felt depressed, irritable and restless when they attempted to cut down on their Internet use. The brain scans revealed that the Internet addicts had abnormal amounts of white matter surrounding neuron paths in the brain.
Gordon Harris, professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School, says the study provides an insight into why some people are more easily addicted than others. Rather than addiction being in some way related to weakness, the study reinforces that addiction is connected to brain chemistry. Jonathon Wallis, professor of neuroscience and psychology at UC Berkeley, backs this evidence further - the areas of the brain that exhibited an abnormal amount of white matter are, he says, those involved with compulsive behaviour.
Of course, Internet addiction is still a controversial topic. Experts hold that almost 10% of Internet users have an addiction disorder, so they become absorbed online much more quickly. Often forgetting to eat or drink for long periods of time, this behaviour is clearly more abnormal than the skeptics would have you believe. Indeed, Dr. Henrietta Bowden-Jones - a psychiatrist who runs a public clinic for Internet addicts - agrees that Internet addiction will cause sufferers to forgo relationships, obligations and even basic needs.
Dr. Bowden-Jones also holds that Internet addiction is primarily in relation to gaming, especially role-playing scenarios. Many contend that this is not as dangerous as an alcohol or drug addiction, but several deaths have been attributed to Internet addiction throughout the world. In the last year, one South Korean man died of cardiac arrest after playing an online game for 50 hours, and another Chinese man died after 3 days of non-stop gaming.
Of course, this new research helps experts to understand Internet addiction in greater depth. Scientists still don't know whether the abnormal white matter is the result or cause of addiction, but hopefully Internet addicts can be better understood, and supported, as more research is conducted.