Is Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) real? A new study suggests it may be — and that its effects can be seen in the human brain.
The study asked those between the ages 14 and 21 questions about how their internet use had negatively impacted their lives. Many of these questions run parallel to those that help diagnose an alcohol or drug problem: "Have you lied to your family members, therapist, or others to hide the truth of your involvement with the internet?" "Have you taken the risk of losing a significant relationship, job, educational, or career opportunity because of the internet?" Researchers followed up with questions to the subjects' friends and families.
Participants who were found to be "addicted" to the internet had significant differences in brain development than those who were not. These include areas of lower volume in the parts of the brain that control emotional processing, executive thinking skills and attention, and cognitive control — very similar to the brain changes in drug addicts. There also appeared to be disruptions in the white matter between brain cells, affecting how neurons communicate with each other. The longer a person had suffered from IAD, the more pronounced the brain differences were.
There are a lot of questions still present in light of the study. Researchers are not sure whether addiction to the internet causes peoples' brains to develop differently, or whether the brains were already like this, making people more susceptible addiction.
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