It’s not exactly news to suggest that we live in a society saturated with technology. Our dependency on it has, at least in some circles, become problematic and new research suggests that Internet addiction can change the brain in similar ways to alcoholism and drug addiction.
We already know that people can be addicted to their cell phones and smartphones (nomophobia) and we know that marketers are using our attachments to various devices (and our incessant need for more) as a way to get us hooked. It may be sensationalistic to refer to companies like Apple as drug pushers, but there certainly do appear to be some similarities when one considers the amount of frenzy some consumers experience when a “new” model is announced mere months after the “old” one was released.
It stands to reason, then, that the Internet and Internet users without an “off” button will feel effects as well.
According to research from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Wuhan, Internet addicts “may experience distress and withdrawal symptoms including tremors, obsessive thoughts, and involuntary typing movements of the fingers.” Hooked on a behaviour, any behaviour, can produce effects that can be just as physically damaging as those effects generated through addiction to drugs or alcohol.
Internet addiction is classified as an impulse control disorder and is said to impact an estimated five to 10 percent of users. Young’s Diagnostic Questionnaire for Internet Addiction adapted by Beard and Wolf is as follows:
- Do you feel preoccupied with the Internet?
- Do you feel the need to use the Internet with increasing amounts of time in order to achieve satisfaction?
- Have you repeatedly made unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back or stop Internet use?
- Do you feel restless, moody, depressed, or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop Internet use?
- Do you stay online longer than intended?
- Have you jeopardized or risked the loss of a significant relationship, job, educational or career opportunity because of the Internet?
- Have you lied to family members, a therapist or others to conceal the extent of involvement with the Internet?
- Do you use the Internet as a way of escaping from problems or of relieving a distressed mood (eg. feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety and depression)?
If participants answered to the affirmative to questions one to five and to the affirmative to at least one more question, they were classed as suffering from Internet Addiction Disorder.
The Chinese study examined the brains of 35 men and women between the ages of 14 and 21, 17 of which were classified as Internet addicts. In the brains of those classified as web addicts, MRI brain scans showed changes in “white matter” and disruption to nerve fibre connections. Similar findings were discovered in video game addicts, said Prof. Gunter Schumann, chair in biological psychiatry at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College.