The concept of being addicted to the Internet has always been met with a healthy dose of skepticism. Despite a growing number of the web obsessed, psychiatrists are still in debate over whether to include the diagnosis in the DSM-V. Now, a new study gives the disorder more ground by showing that web addicts display similar brain changes to those addicted to drugs or alcohol.
The study, which was led by Hao Lei of the Chinese Academy, looked at the brain scans of 35 men between the ages of 14 and 21, 17 of whom were classified as having Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD).
The results? Scientists found that the MRIs of web addicts showed significant differences from those that were not bound to the Internet.
Web addicts' brains showed changes in white matter, the part of the brain that contains nerve fibers. These addicts may experience disrupted connections of nerve fibers that link the vital brain areas involved in emotion, decision-making and self-control, Helen Briggs of BBC News reports.
The study has profound implications as it contributes to a growing body of research that provides evidence for behavioral addictions. Similar findings concerning brain changes were found last year in those said to be addicted to be video games.
Commenting on the Chinese study, Dr. Henrietta Bowden-Jones, consultant psychiatrist and honorary senior lecturer at Imperial College London, said the research was "groundbreaking."
She added: "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."