Study Finds Internet Addiction During Adolescence Changes Brain Structure

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Here's a warning note for those teens glued to the internet. Researchers have discovered that internet addiction in young people could alter their brains, and disrupt the signaling in critical neural networks impacting decision-making, attention, memory, coordination, and .

Internet addiction refers to the stage in which people have “excessive or poorly controlled preoccupations, urges, or behaviors regarding computer use and Internet access that lead to impairment or distress.”

Around 0.7% of the U.S. population experience the compulsive need to spend their time on the internet. Although not clinically classified as a mental health disorder, studies have shown that internet addiction raises the risk of psychiatric co-morbidities such as mood, anxiety, impulse control, and substance use disorders.

study published in Plus Mental Health examined how internet addiction affects the functional connectivity of the adolescent brain. For the , the team reviewed 12 articles that conducted neuroimaging studies on a total of 237 participants to examine changes in the connectivity between brain networks with internet addiction.

The participants were between the ages of 10 and 19 and had a diagnosis of internet addiction between 2013 and 2023.

The review results indicate that teenagers with internet addiction have significant disruptions in brain regions responsible for executive control activities like attention, planning, decision-making, and impulse control, compared to their peers without internet addiction.

“Adolescence is a crucial developmental stage during which people go through significant changes in their biology, cognition, and personalities. As a result, the brain is particularly vulnerable to internet addiction-related urges during this time, such as compulsive internet usage, cravings towards usage of the mouse or keyboard, and consuming media,” Max Chang, lead author of the study, said in a news release.

“The findings from our study show that this can lead to potentially negative behavioral and developmental changes that could impact the lives of adolescents. For example, they may struggle to maintain relationships and social activities, lie about online activity, and experience irregular eating and disrupted sleep,” Chang added.

“There is no doubt that the Internet has certain advantages. However, when it begins to affect our day-to-day lives, it is a problem. We would advise that young people enforce sensible time limits for their daily internet usage and ensure that they are aware of the psychological and social implications of spending too much time online,” said senior author Irene Lee.

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