Teenagers who are addicted to the internet show signs of brain changes similar to those who are addicted to alcohol and drugs, a study suggests.Chinese researchers used MRI scans to look at the brain structure of 17 young people with "internet addiction disorder" attending the Shanghai Mental Health Centre and compared them with those of 16 healthy volunteers.
In the internet-addicted teens, the scans showed changes to the white matter fibres
which connect the regions of the brain involved in emotional processing, attention and decision-making.Other research has found similar white matter changes in the brains of people addicted to alcohol, cocaine, cannabis and other drugs.
The researchers, led by Dr Hao Lei from the Chinese Academy of Sciences,
wrote in the journal Plos One:
"The findings suggest that white matter integrity may serve as
a potential new treatment target in internet addiction disorder."
However, the study findings cannot say whether internet addiction causes the brain changes seen in the study. Some people may already have brains which make them more likely to become addicts.
Commenting on the study, Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones, a consultant psychiatrist at
Imperial College London, said:
"This type of research exploring the differences between normal brains of people who suffer from internet addictions is groundbreaking, as it makes clear neuroimaging links between internet addiction and other addictions such as alcohol, cocaine and cannabis among others.
"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."