(L) Internet Addiction Is The New Mental Health Disorder (2012)

Internet Addiction Is The New Mental Health Disorder

Alice G. Walton, Contributor

I cover health, medicine, psychology, and neuroscience

There’s been more and more scientific research devoted to understanding what IUD is, how it works neurologically, and how we can treat it.Research has shown that people with internet addiction have demonstrable changes in their brains – both in the connections between cells and in the brain areas that control attention, executive control, and emotion processing. Most intriguing is the fact that many of these changes are what you see happening in the brains of people addicted to cocaine, heroine, special K, and other substances.

And other research has found that people who are hooked on the internet have changes in how the brain’s dopamine system operates – dopamine is generally credited for allowing us to experience pleasure and reward. Some studies have found that people with internet addiction have fewer dopamine receptors in certain areas of the brain, and others have suggested additional ways in which dopamine function might be impaired. And veryrecent studies have suggested how certain genetic variations may be involved in internet addiction.

If we accept that internet addiction or IUD is a legitimate mental health disorder, then what? How bad does it have to get before you get treatment, and for that matter, what is the treatment?

There’s been a smattering of horror stories about internet and gaming addiction: Parents who have let their children die while they played games hours on end, teens keeling over after day spent staring at a screen, or killing their parents after the object of desire was taken away. You might be right to suspect that there are other things at play in these episodes, but internet or gaming addiction may also be involved.

These cases represent the dark side of addiction, certainly, but internet addicts with a milder version of the disorder might argue that their dependence is actually beneficial, since it lets them be more productive professionally. At any hour of the day, your addiction will endow you with the capacity for lighting fast responses to work emails, making you a more valuable employee than your non-addicted colleague. That argument might hold water to some degree, but when it starts to intrude on your overall well-being, or sanity, or it takes precedence over time with your kids or spouse, then it might be time to cut back.

How to treat internet addiction is then the next question. One might suspect that treatment won’t be straightforward, since most of us have to use the internet at some level (or even a lot) throughout the day. In this way, 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.

Some studies have found that cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) might be an effective method to treat IUD. This form of psychotherapy teaches people how to replace the damaging thought and behavior patterns that plague them with healthier, more productive ones. When people with internet addiction were taught how to apply CBT to their internet use problems, they reported improved well being and less of the offending behavior, internet use.

Researchers will keep trying to learn about what’s going on with our internet use these days, and how we can get a handle on it before it gets out of control. We’ll certainly keep apprised of the developments on internet addiction research (probably by combing the internet), and the best ways to manage it.

Does your internet use affect your life negatively? Have you tried to cut back? Please comment below.