Although internet addiction is a relatively new phenomenon, it is receiving increasing attention as the number of young people with some form of internet addiction grows. Internet addiction is intriguing because it does not cause physiological and physical symptoms similar to those found in other addiction. Individuals with drug and alcohol addiction often display broad and similar symptoms of craving and compulsion. These addictions also cause specific physical and physiological damage that has not been shown to be evident across all forms of addiction. But one symptom present in a variety of addictions also appears to exist in those with internet addiction.
According to the results of a recent study led by Soon-Beom Hong of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Melbourne in Australia, adolescents with internet addiction appear to have reduced neural connectivity similar to impairments found in the brains of people addicted to heroin and cocaine. Hong chose to analyze several specific brain regions of 12 teenagers with internet addiction as they were in a resting state. The images were then compared to those of 11 non-internet addicted adolescents. The results revealed that the participants with internet addiction had decreased neural connectivity across several different regions of their brains. In fact, Hong looked at 90 different areas of the brain and found deficits in approximately 25% of those regions in the internet addicted teens.
This group of participants provided an opportunity to examine resting state neural connectivity without the contamination of drug use or psychological conditions that are often present in older addicted individuals. The parietal and frontal regions of the teens’ brains showed decreased connectivity which supports other studies showing similar reductions in adults with other forms of addiction. But because these adolescents’ brains were not impacted by drug use, the results of Hong’s study could be viewed as providing a unique and novel window into the neural deficits found in individuals with addiction. Hong added, “Our finding in internet addiction also supports the notion that decreased functional connectivity between frontal and parietal regions might be a common characteristic across different types of addiction.” Although that has not been established in this research, if clearly substantiated in future work, that particular neural deficit could be a potential indicator for those at risk for addiction.
Hong, S.-B., Zalesky, A., Cocchi, L., Fornito, A., Choi, E.-J., et al. (2013). Decreased functional brain connectivity in adolescents with internet addiction. PLoS ONE 8(2): e57831. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0057831
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