"Hi my name is ______ and I'm an Internet-oholic..."


| 6 Comments
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When we think of serious and treatable addictions, cigarettes, alcohol, or even sex may come to mind; the Internet... maybe not so much. But think about it: How many hours per day do you find yourself on Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Flickr, Instagram, Stumble Upon, etc.? Or even, how many times have you said to a classmate, friend or relative, "I'm addicted to Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Flickr, Instagram, Stumble Upon, etc.?" Well, science has found that maybe you really are.
Recent research has found a possible, biological condition stimulated by a genetic make up in the brain that may cause a literal addiction to the Internet. The possibility of such an addiction has led to talk of a mental disorder linked to a person's physical reliance on the Internet. Could it be that the newest mental health disorder is one related to the Internet? And could there be a biological explanation to one's need to surf the web? In fact, there very well could.
Scientists are dubbing this new finding in mental health the Internet Use0 Disorder (IUD).  According to an article on this topic, one who suffers from IUD will experience, "withdrawal symptoms when the substance (internet) is no longer available, tolerance (the need to spend more and more time on the internet to achieve the same "high"), loss of other interests, unsuccessful attempts to quit, and use of the internet to improve or escape dysphoric mood."

Scientists have found that the chemical changes in the brain causing such a reliance on the Internet are similar to those of cigarette, cocaine, and heroine addicts. According to a recent control-case study published by the American Society of Addiction Medicine, 132 of 843 participants who were interviewed about their Internet use expressed seemingly troublesome Internet-use habits. It was found that the DNA results of those 132 participants demonstrated the addictive mutation (or the T- variant (CC genotype) of the rs1044396 polymorphism, to be exact) on the CHRNA4 gene more frequently than on the other participants in the study. This is the same mutation found on the CHRNA4 gene found in heroine and cocaine addicts. So if these same mutations were not as frequently evident in the 711 participants whose Internet habits were not found to be problematic, this probably isn't just chance, right?                                                                                                                 

A smaller study published by CBS news also reports evidence of a correlation between the brain and Internet addiction. Brain scans were performed on 17 individuals found to be addicted to the Internet, and 16 "healthy" individuals. Abnormal white matter areas were found in the 17 individuals suffering from Internet addiction, and not in the 16 others studied. These changes in the white matter of the brain are similar to those of drug addicts and, "showed evidence of disrupting pathways related to emotions, decision-making, and self control. 

From this research, we can reject the null hypothesis that there is no genetic make up or mutation causing an addiction to the Internet. The possibility of a treatable addiction to the Internet is on the front of scientific research. While the research is preliminary, it is certainly compelling and being furthered. And while it may be hard to believe that reliance on the Internet is both a biological and psychological addiction similar to that of cigarettes, alcohol, and hard drugs, science is working to prove it is. 

Want to know if you may suffer from internet addiction? Look no further than right here.


6 Comments

This is interesting and quite ironic because it is on the internet. My only problem with these studies however is what makes the internet addictive? It seems like the correlation is that it brings a certain sort of enjoyment that is comparable to heroin-addicts. Is it as bad as doing heroin? Could you have internet withdrawal?

It's also kind of funny that a completely human invention, the internet, made to share ideas and make the world a smaller place, can cause problems.

Is the research for actual medical issues? Or is it maybe to garner hype about our everyday lives?

In my own opinion, if genes have something to do with it. I'm glad that they are addicted to surfing the web, rather than a dangerous drug.

Katherine,
Thank you for posting on this topic. This is a current issue that I am rather interested in and I'm fascinated to learn that those who were deemed "addicted" to the internet were found to have an addictive mutation on one of their genes. What I am wondering is, what if the Internet did not exist? Would these people have some other type of substance addiction or at least be more likely to have one?
I was also wondering what type of treatment would be proposed to Internet addicts? Our society depends so heavily on the internet that it would not be a feasible treatment for an Internet addict to cut himself off cold turkey. So what type of treatment would be available to Internet addicts? I have not found any answers that are very concrete other than joining a support group and going to counseling. It will be interesting to see how this addiction develops over the next 10 to 20 years and what will be done to stop it.

After reading this blog it got me to thinking about how much I use the internet daily. The answer was the majority of the day. If I am not doing homework or research, I am using the internet for social media. I do not believe that I am addicted, but I know life is much more easier with it. When thinking about addition, I think about drugs and alcohol. I have never connected addiction with the internet. Knowing that this new "addiction" is being heavily researched, I decided to try and look up some information myself. I found some interesting information on helpguide regarding possible risk factors relating to internet addiction. This article states that over-usage of the internet could lead to anxiety, depression, stress and other addictions. All of this new findings makes me want to reconsider the amount I am on the web.

Eugene, I can see where you would have the question concerning what makes the internet addicting and some of the information is a little unclear. There is no actual substance associated with the internet that makes it addictive; for example nicotine in cigarettes makes it addictive not necessarily the act of smoking. However, the actual act of surfing the web can be attractive to most as a way to pass time, communicate, relieve boredom, etc. So what makes the internet addicting? Nothing of substance, I guess you could say. But the people who become addicted to the Internet seem to have a gene mutation that makes them more prone to addictive behaviors, such as the Internet.
And, Emma, the Forbes article that I posted explains a little about the treatment process in the last few paragraphs. The thing about the studies on Internet addiction is that they are very preliminary (after all the internet itself is fairly new to the world in the grand scheme of things) and thus, the most effective treatment process is still being determined. However,this study provides evidence for the success of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT which focuses on one's thoughts to shape their actions. The treatment could not be a cold-turkey kind of thing such as the treatments used for alcohol or drugs, because the Internet is almost necessary to be a functioning member of society. So, it would be approached as more of a "managing" therapy. As the Forbes article states, CBT used to treat an Internet addiction can be compared to curing a food addiction, "it’s a bit like food addiction, which they say is the hardest to treat, since you can’t just quit the substance, you have to actually learn how to manage it. And for many people, managing is harder than quitting."

I love this topic because I'm convinced that my friend Kylie is an actual internet addict. She's able to spend her entire night spanning from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. on different social networking and blogging sites without getting tired. No matter how much homework she has she's completely unable to minimize the internet on her screen. It's scary to me that this addiction has the same effects on the brain as drugs seem to because then the problem becomes hard to shake, so I hope my friend realizes that sooner rather than later. I don't use the internet as often as most people, but I can admit to being an avid social networking user on my phone. I'll probably try to cut back on that for the sake of my brain now though!

Is there a way to prove that instead of being addicted to the Internet, people are actually addicted to technology? Also, is it possible that people who are "addicted to the Internet" have the addiction gene that can cause people to be addicted to drugs, alcohol, etc.? Also, could going through Internet withdrawal actually cause death, like going through withdrawal of drugs could do? Is there a treatment for Internet addiction? Are people addicted to the Internet more likely to become addicted to drugs or alcohol later on in life?

Of course, with all that said, I'm willing to admit that I have a slight addiction to the Internet, and technology in general. This has been something my family has noticed over the years, when I started playing my Game Boy too much. I've at least tried to make an effort to cut back on how much time I spend on the Internet, including installing a software called Self-Control on my Mac, which actually blocks my access to certain sites like Facebook, Twitter, etc. while I try to do schoolwork, and allows me access to sites affiliated with Penn State, and any research I might be trying to do.

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