Web addiction may lead to brain change, research reveals

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View of an Internet cafe in China.

According to a research done in China, web addiction can cause abnormal change in brain similar to that by drug and alcohol addiction.

Experts in China scanned over 17 young web addicts and found some disruption in their brain. Their discovery, published in Plos One, could lead to treatments for addictive behavior.

This research was led by Hao Lei of Chinese Academy of Science, who found some disruption in the minds of web addicts in the area where they failed to show emotion, decision making and self control. This disease was named as Internet Addiction Disorder, on the basis of answering the questions such as “have you repeatedly made unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back or stop Internet use?” in simple yes or no.

Dr. Lei and his colleagues said: Overall our finding indicates that IAD has abnormal white matter integrity in brain regions involving emotional generation and processing executive attention, decision making and cognitive control.

The result also suggests that IAD may share psychological and neural mechanism with other types of substance addiction and impulse control disorders.

The case of internet addiction has risen by percentage where sufferers have struggled to overcome their their habit, especially with the growing social networking sites.

The MRI scan conducted on brains of 17 young adults also showed changes in white matter of brain that contains nerve fibers which is linked to brain involves emotions, decision making and cognitive control.

Commenting on the groundbreaking research, Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones, Consultant Psychiatrist says: We are finally being told what clinicians suspected for some time now, that white matter abnormalities in the orbito-frontal cortex and other truly significant brain areas are present not only in addictions where substances are involved but also in behavioural ones such as internet addiction.

SOCIAL NETWORKS DAMAGING BRAIN NETWORK

Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter are playing a major role in creating addiction and brain change in young adults. Perhaps it can be a major disease that would be spreading across the globe. However, it is not clear whether using social networking sites boosts grey matter or if those with certain brain structures are good at making friends.

Researchers have found a strong link between the number of Facebook friends a person had and amount of grey matter in certain parts of brain.

Dr Ryota Kanai, researcher at University College London, reveals: We have found some interesting brain regions that seem to link to the number of friends we have – both ‘real’ and ‘virtual’. The exciting question now is whether these structures change over time – this will help us answer the question of whether the internet is changing our brains.

The best example of internet addiction is South Korea where figures have reached around two million and increasing. There are school children and students are lining up in cyber caf to log onto the Internet for hours, including for playing online games.

Koreans are more exposed to gaming at a younger age, explained Kim Tong-Hyung, a Seoul based journalist, adding its been going on for decades.

A study done in Mexico found that spending four hours everyday on Facebook had higher incidence of depression and self esteem levels compared to less Facebook users.

Currently there are more than 800 million Facebook users and the figure is rising year by year. Dr.John Williams, Head of Neuroscience and Mental Health at Wellcome Trust says: We cannot escape the ubiquity of the Internet and its impact on our lives, yet we understand little its impact on the brain, which we know is plastic and can change over time.

EFFECTS OF WEB ADDICTION

Numerous studies have been conducted on web addiction and its effects on brain. According to the statistics compiled from various studies, majority of web addicts are from younger age and are unable to stay away from the Internet.

In America, there are more than 200 million Internet users and nearly 10% of them are suffering from Internet addiction disorder. Similarly in China, around 15% of total population of Internet users is suffering from the same disease which is an alarming situation.

Easy access to information is considered as the main reason for the Internet addiction disorder and studies have also proved it right. And the number of addicts is increasing rapidly across globe.

Sources: BBC News, techchorus.com

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