How Internet Addiction Affects Your Brain

Computers and the Internet have become essential tools in the modern business world. People rely on the Internet for just about everything including the following:

  • Work
  • Communication
  • Medical advice
  • Music
  • Shopping
  • Homework

People may jokingly claim to have an addiction to the Internet, but recent research suggests that Internet addiction is a very real issue with serious consequences. Since there can be no physical dependency to the Internet like there is with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, researches have labeled Internet addiction as Internet addiction disorder (IAD).

The disorder covers a number of impulse-control issues including the following:

  • Cybersex addiction: Compulsive use of Internet pornography sites.
  • Cyber-relationship addiction: Addiction to virtual relationships. People become obsessed with online friends and prefer their virtual reality to real-life relationships.
  • Net compulsions: Compulsive use of online gaming or online auction or bidding sites resulting in real-life financial troubles.
  • Information overload: Obsessive web surfing or database browsing. People feel they must get on the Internet constantly throughout the day, and this interferes with their productivity and real-life responsibilities.
  • Computer addiction: Fixated time spent on the computer. Many “computer geeks” fall into this category with acts of obsessive computer programming or gaming.

How Do I Know if I Am Addicted to the Internet?

How can Internet users determine whether their Internet use has crossed over to addiction? The following symptoms can provide a non-professional diagnosis for IAD:

  • Losing track of time while online
  • Responsibilities and tasks fall behind because of time spent online
  • Isolation or distance from friends and family
  • Noticeable guilt or defensiveness about how much time you spend online or what activities you engage in
  • Using the Internet to improve your mood or finding pleasure, relief or sexual gratification from time spent online
  • Failed attempts at cutting back on internet use
  • Physical symptoms such as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, headaches, back or neck aches, unexplained weight gain or loss, dry eyes, strained images and sleep disturbances

What Are the Long-Term Consequences of Internet Addiction?

IAD is problematic, because the disorder can interfere with one’s real-life responsibilities and relationships. IAD can also affect a person’s health. Internet addiction alters the volume of the brain.

The brain changes are similar to those produced by alcohol and cocaine addiction. IAD shrinks the brain’s gray and white matter fibers which results in changes to emotional processing and brain functioning. The brain will continue to negatively transform, as long as the addiction continues.

Risk Factors for Internet Addiction Disorder Specific risk factors for IAD include the following:

  • Suffering from anxiety, depression or other mental health or mood disorders
  • Feeling lonely
  • Not having enough social interaction or support
  • Already struggling with other addictions (gambling, alcohol, drug, sex)
  • A change that limits social activity or mobility such as moving, job loss, disability or having a baby
  • High levels of stress

About Talbott Campus

Talbott Campus’ focus is on adults ages 18 and up with co-occurring substance use and mental health disorders. While we don’t directly treat internet addiction, we can help arrange interventions or help with related underlying mental health issues like anxiety and depression when combined with substance use issues. If you’d like to learn more, please call us at 678-251-3189.

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