Internet addiction has for the first time been linked with changes in the brain similar to those seen in people addicted to alcohol, cocaine and cannabis.
Researchers used MRI scanners to reveal abnormalities in the brains of adolescents who spent many hours on the internet, to the detriment of their social and personal lives.
An estimated 5 to 10 per cent of internet users are thought to be addicted. The majority are games players who become so absorbed in the activity they go without food or drink for long periods and their education, work and relationships suffer.
Henrietta Bowden Jones, consultant psychiatrist at Imperial College, London, who runs Britain's only NHS clinic for internet addicts and problem gamblers, said: "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." Researchers in China scanned the brains of 17 adolescents diagnosed with "internet addiction disorder" who had been referred to the Shanghai Mental Health Centre and compared the results with their peers.
The results showed impairment of white matter fibres in the brain connecting regions involved in emotional processing, attention, decision making and cognitive control. Similar changes to the white matter have been observed in other forms of addiction to substances like alcohol and cocaine.
However, the authors acknowledge that they cannot tell whether the brain changes are the cause or the consequence of the internet addiction. It could be that young people with the brain changes observed are more prone to becoming addicted.Reuse content