SCIENCE CORNER blog- by Doug Linman
Internettians (internet-tians) is my descriptive word for what is clearly an established and growing addiction that does require a step program to dial down, wean down, or if ignored, will position your brain to shut down!
It is already medically and scientifically proven that Internet addiction disrupts nerve wiring in the brains of teenagers especially, since they are still growing, thus causing a level of brain damage normally seen in heavy substance abusers. In addition the “hooked behavior” can become just as physically damaging and emotionally potent as addiction to drugs. “Turning on and tuning out” is clearly detrimental to not only your body functions and mind but also in ones ability to socially interact in person, with others.
The Internet addiction disorder (IAD) is a recognized condition, characterized by out-of-control Internet use including cellphone texting. People having this addiction spend unhealthy amounts of time “online” to the extent that it impairs them physically in numerous ways and thus their quality of life. Take away their computers, and they will experience distress and withdrawal symptoms including tremors, obsessive thoughts, aggression, depression, separation anxiety, and involuntary physical movements, similar to drug addiction.
A new study, used Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) techniques to look at its effects on actual brain structure. Scans were carried out on internet-addicted adolescents and non-addicted adolescents, with the results compared and the findings to be alarming!
In the IAD-diagnosed teenagers, the scientists and medical doctors found evidence of disruption to 'white matter' nerve fibers connecting vital parts of the brain involved in emotions, decision-making, and self-control. The study further expressed that a measurement of water diffusion called 'fractional anisotropy' (FA) was used which provides a picture of the state of nerve fibers. Low FA was an indicator of poor nerve fiber structure. The researchers, led by renowned Dr Hao Lei from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, wrote 'Our findings suggest that IAD demonstrated widespread reductions of FA in major white matter pathways and such abnormal white matter structure may be linked to various behavioral impairments.' Previous studies had shown the same abnormal white matter structure in the orbito-frontal regions of the brains of people exposed to alcohol, cocaine, cannabis, methamphetamine and ketamine, said the researchers. They added: 'Our findings are that IAD is associated with impaired white matter integrity in the orbito-frontal regions and is consistent with these previous results.' The scientists suspect the damage is caused by disrupted myelin, the fatty insulating sheath that coats nerve fibers and helps them to function.
Commenting on these findings, Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones, another renowned consulting psychiatrist, this time from the respected Imperial College London, said: 'This type of research exploring the differences between normal brains and brains of people who suffer from internet addictions, is groundbreaking as it makes clear neuroimaging links between internet addiction and other addictions such as alcohol, cocaine and cannabis amongst others.' 'We have finally been told what clinicians have suspected for some time now; that white matter abnormalities in the orbito-frontal cortex and other truly significant brain areas are present not only in addictions where substances are involved but also in behavioral ones such as internet addiction!’
SO! Lets take this matter very seriously! The signs are all there and we know it is going on around us everyday, in children, in our young adults and adults. Our youth are not only addicted to Energy drinks which cause all sort of psychochemical reactions in their bodies but add in IAD as now potentially causing a cumulative effect, potentially permanently damaging our youth if not caught early and treated.
Children remain the most vulnerable age group because of the clear effect on their continuing physiological cell and neuroemotional growth. Certainly it also has a debilitating effect on Adults, to which there is also no question, but adults make it more dangerous by operating a vehicle with this addiction.
KNOWN SYMPTOMS OF INTERNET ADDICTION
- Lost Time - Lost time is a common, early symptom of Internet addiction. A person with Internet addiction will spend hours surfing the Internet without even realizing it.
- Isolation - Isolating oneself from friends, family and loved ones. An addicted person will often refuse to go out because they would rather stay at home on the computer.
- Mood Changes - when confronted about his/her Internet use, a person will become irritable, moody and sometimes even violent. The addicted person may feel cornered when asked about their personal Internet habits and see the person confronting them as an enemy trying to take away their happiness.
- Feelings of Euphoria - experiencing feelings of extreme highs, while engaged in Internet activities. This is because the addicted person is satisfying the compulsion to get on the Internet, giving them a temporary feeling of euphoria.
- Escapism - creating online personas of a person they want to be and could be extremely different than who they truly are caused by low self-esteem, feelings of worthlessness, socially impaired and fear of disapproval. The Internet allows the addict to create characters for which he/she can identify himself.
- Physical Changes - the addicted person may suffer from eye strain, muscle aches, sleep disturbances and pain in the wrists from overuse. Sudden weight changes are also a common sign. Some people lose weight because of not eating, while others gain weight due to a lack of physical activity.
When a behavior becomes more than a passion, when it becomes more than just a compulsion and when it becomes harmful or maladaptive – it is defined as an addiction. "Psychological addictions" involve both chemical and biological changes in the brain.
HEALTHY vs. UNHEALTHY INTERNET USE
The Internet provides a constant, ever-changing source of information and entertainment, and can be accessed from most smart phones as well as tablets, laptops, and computers. Email, blogs, social networks, and message boards allow for both public and anonymous communication about any topic and just about from anywhere, home, office, car, restaurants, school, outside, just about anywhere. But how much is too much Internet usage?
Each person’s Internet use is different. Spending a lot of time online only becomes a problem when it absorbs too much of your time, causing you to neglect your relationships, your work, school, or other important things in your life. If you keep repeating compulsive Internet behavior despite the negative consequences in your offline life, then it’s time to strike a new balance.
PHYSICAL SYMPTOMS OF INTERNET ADDICTION
Internet or computer addiction can also cause physical discomfort such as:
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (pain and numbness in hands and wrists)
- Dry eyes or strained vision
- Back aches and neck aches; severe headaches
- Sleep disturbances
- Pronounced weight gain or weight loss
- Cybersex and pornography causing anyone to spend hours on the Internet in the privacy of your own home, and engage in fantasies impossible in real life will adversely affect real-life relationships, career, and emotional health. Unlike healthy sex that is integrated into good relationships, sexual addicts on the other hand use sex as a means to cope, to handle boredom, anxiety, and other powerful feelings as a way to feel important, wanted, or powerful.
- Gambling online or virtual casinos are open all day, every day for anyone with Internet access. People who don’t live within close proximity of a traditional casino or betting track, for example, or even those who are too young to gain access, now find it much easier to gamble online. This area, like cybersex or porn, creates an even greater addiction to the Internet that must be addressed.
- Compulsive online gamers, day traders, etc.. can isolate themselves for many hours at a time participating in virtual reality or online fantasy games and addictive gambling to a point of neglecting other aspects of their lives such as work and family.
- Another problem is that about 50% of people online lie about their age, weight, job, marital status, or gender. When online friends finally meet and the real-life person fails to match the “online persona”, it will create profound emotional disappointment.
BREAKING THE INTERNET ADDICTION
While you can initiate many of these yourself, it’s seriously important for you get some outside support, especially if you use the Internet heavily for work or other important activities. Most psychotherapists are trained to assess and treat compulsive behavior, along with the associated difficulties of living and the emotional distress. The following are known helpful direction and plans:
- To help clearly see the problem areas, keep an honest log or journal of how much you use the Internet for non-work or non-essential activities. Are there times of day that you use the Internet more? Are there triggers in your day that make you stay online for hours at a time when you only planned to stay for a few minutes?
- Set goals for when you can use the Internet. For example, you might try setting an egg timer, scheduling your use and making a commitment to turn off the computer, tablet, or smart phone- as a habit- at the same time each night at the sound of the bell or buzzer.
- Replace your Internet usage with healthy activities, such as walking, listening to music, readings instead, going to lunch with a coworker, taking a class, or inviting a friend over for non-internet related things.
- Alter your routine to break your usage patterns. If you spend evenings on the Internet, start limiting your use to only mornings and set that timer.
- Seek out friends and acquaintances who “couldn’t care less” about the Internet. Take time to appreciate the fact that all life is not found - online.
- Stay connected to the offline world. Visit newsstands, book and music stores, and participate in entertainment such as museums, music, and live theater. Novels, plays, participating in some sport or exercise, or poetry readings are hard to experience online.
- Redefine and treat the Internet as a tool, not your new or only best friend.
- Plan your use strategy—whether you’re looking for information or entertainment—with the end time in mind (less than 2 hours on a timer - example), you will save valuable time and wean yourself away from this addiction.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy provides step-by-step ways to stop compulsive Internet behaviors and change your perceptions regarding Internet and computer use. Therapy can also help you learn healthier ways of coping with uncomfortable emotions, such as stress, anxiety, aggression or depression.
HELPING SOMEONE WITH INTERNET ADDICTION
Be a good role model to them by managing the Internet and computer use in your own life well. Introduce the Internet addict to other people who handle their Internet use sensibly and get your friend involved in non-Internet related interests.
Openly talk to your friend about your concerns with their Internet use and volunteer to support in some way, with your involvement known to the parents, their desire for change if they think they have a problem. Always, encourage them to seek professional counseling because it is an addiction and not easily corrected alone.
Finally, Teenagers often rebel against their parents but if they hear the same information from a different authority figure, they may be more inclined to listen. Try a sports coach, doctor, or respected family friend. Don’t be afraid to seek professional counseling if you are concerned about your child. If they meet the basic criteria presented here, then you need to jump on course-correcting your children now.
Contributions for this article assembly were prepared by Doug Linman PhD as our Patch - Science Corner blog - contributor. Data, references, and other related information came from public domain Internet research, his research time at the Pleasanton Library and discussions with his science and counselor colleagues. Doug accepts all comments and suggestions for new topics through the comments section.