The public’s understanding of addiction seems to be growing, with a more general acceptance of the scientific reality that it is a disease, not a personal weakness. At the same time, non-chemical addictions are still more of a mystery. While some are skeptical, studies have shown that gambling, sex, food, even video games or the Internet can produce addictive behaviors. One recent study even found that Internet addiction can change the brain in a way that is similar to the effects of cocaine.
To determine this, Chinese experts scanned the brains of young Internet addicts, discovering that their addiction actually changes the way their brains function, according to a BBC report.
The results are helping to expand our understanding of these “process” addictions (aka addiction that aren’t drug or alcohol related but instead involve an activity or process) and how they work. The study’s findings suggest that the brains of the addicted appeared to show the same changes to the brain’s “white matter” — the connecting web of the brain — as those found in individuals addicted to alcohol, cocaine and cannabis.
The study, conducted by Hao Lei of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Wuhan, looked at the brain scans of 35 men and women aged between 14 and 21. Of those studied, 17 were thought to be Internet addicts, a status that is more rare than you might think in this technology age. While many of us joke about being addicted to our computers, smart phones or other tech devices, the truth is just 5 to 10 percent of users are thought to be addicted.
“Modern life requires us to link up over the ‘Net in regard to jobs, professional and social connections — but not in an obsessive way,” says Henrietta Bowden Jones, consultant psychiatrist at Imperial College, London, an expert on Internet addiction.
The exception seems to be gamers. That co-worker who shows up at the office bleary-eyed because he spent a dozen hours playing his favorite video game last night and it’s a regular occurrence that he cannot stop even if he tries, that’s the sign of a growing problem.
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