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Chinese study points to possibility of 'internet addiction'

Research by Chinese researchers suggests excessive internet usage causes similar effects to addictions like alcoholism.

An MRI scan of the brain. Chinese researchers have found evidence that internet 'addiction' can cause the links between parts of the brain to be frayed.
An MRI scan of the brain. Chinese researchers have found evidence that internet 'addiction' can cause the links between parts of the brain to be frayed.
Image: jgmarcelino via Flickr

A CHINESE STUDY has found that young people with ‘internet addiction’ can exhibit similar difficulty with emotional management and decision making as those who are addicted to substances like alcohol.

The study published in the PLoS One journal yesterday compared brain scans of young people who consider themselves ‘addicted’ to the internet with those of a ‘healthy’ control group, and discovered that heavy users had damaged fibres connecting certain parts of the brain.

35 young people aged between 14 and 21 were examined in the study, 17 of whom were classified as suffering from ‘Internet Addiction Disorder’ (IAD) based on their answers to appropriate questions.

MRI scans on the 17 ‘addicted’ people showed damage to the ‘white fibres’ – nerves between the areas of the brain controlling emotional reasoning, decision-making, self-control and attention.

Though the study does appear to offer conclusive proof for destructive results of ‘internet addiction’, it does indicate that such problems can be treated.

Its authors wrote that “IAD may share psychological and neural mechanisms with other types of substance addiction and impulse control disorders.”

The study is thought to the first time that excessive use use of the internet, or engagement in video games, has been shown to cause changes in the brain’s ‘white matter’.

‘Internet Addiction Disorder’, despite its name, is not formally recognised as an addiction but rather as an ‘impulse control disorder’.

Some academics claim that it is not the concept of being online which people find addictive, but rather the functions of some social networks like Twitter or Facebook.

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Gavan Reilly

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