Internet addiction shown to be real

Internet addiction has been labelled a real condition and now new research is saying it could be just as harmful as drug addiction.

A Chinese study has discovered that internet addiction can affect nerve fibres in the brain, causing much the same changes as those exposed to alcohol and illicit drugs would experience.

Internet addiction disorder (IAD) is a condition that has been recently recognised in some countries, and is characterised by out-of-control internet use that impairs quality of life.

The study looked at 17 adolescents suffering from IAD alongside 16 healthy controls.

The research has been labelled "groundbreaking" by some international commentators, with IAD becoming a concerning mental health issue across the globe.

The changes discovered in the brain showed the white matter in people with IAD was in a similar condition to that which those with drug addiction tend to show.

White matter fibres are what connect different regions of the brain to others.

"The results demonstrate that IAD is characterised by impairment of white matter fibres connecting brain regions involved with emotional generation and processing, executive attention, decisionmaking, and cognitive control," the researchers found.

The research has been met with cautious approval but National Addiction Centre director Doug Sellman said most researchers now recognised that behavioural addictions quite commonly developed to a level where they looked similar to drug addictions.

"Yes, behavioural addictions can be just as gripping and dehumanising as drug addiction. Think about the number of people you've heard about who steal to feed their gambling habit, or wreck their marriages through compulsive engaging in porn and putting their lives at risk for the sake of the addiction, just like people with drug addiction do.

"There is an increased rate of suicide amongst people with behavioural addictions, just like drug addiction," he said.

Problem Gambling Foundation New Zealand psychologist Philip Townshend said they were increasingly dealing with cases of mainly adolescent men spending up to 23 hours each day online.

"We get parents of mainly young men, but increasingly also young women, calling us because their children have developed such a compulsion to game online, and they get very irritable and sometimes violent when their parents try and stop them."

Dr Townshend said he had heard of some cases where young people had broken into houses to use the internet, because it had been taken off them at home.

He said part of the problem could be that since most people spend long hours in front of the computer at work, it was hard to say what an appropriate amount of time spent online was. "But when we have people doing it at the expense of other things in their lives then it has become a problem."

Prof Sellman said there were no solid figures on the prevalence of internet addiction in New Zealand but it seemed cases were on the rise.

Manawatu Standard