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Could Internet Addiction Disrupt Brain's Connections?
Date:1/12/2012

By Randy Dotinga
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 11 (HealthDay News) -- A small Chinese study suggests that the brains of teenagers who are seemingly addicted to the Internet have abnormal "white matter," the biological insulation that surrounds the wiring between neurons.

It's not clear if this difference could cause Internet addiction or actually be caused by it. And the research doesn't point to a treatment or cure for Internet addiction, a controversial diagnosis that the mental health community hasn't universally accepted.

Still, the research makes sense because of the regions of the brain in question, said Jonathan Wallis, an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of California, Berkeley, who studies the brain and is familiar with the new findings.

"The areas that they [the study authors] have pinpointed are ones that we already know are involved in addiction and compulsive behavior," he said. The differences in white matter in the subjects described as Internet addicts is "the kind of impairment that we'd expect to disrupt the normal function of those areas."

The existence of Internet addiction is a widely debated issue in the world of mental health, especially since the main handbook of psychological disorders -- the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders -- is undergoing revision. Among other things, specialists disagree over whether the condition is truly an addiction or fits into another category.

Internet addiction has been an especially hot topic in China, where researchers at Jiao Tong University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences launched the new study.

The researchers gave MRI brain scans to 17 adolescents who appeared to suffer from Internet addiction. Among other things, the teens said they were preoccupied with the Internet, had repeatedly tried to control their use without success, and felt restless, moody, depressed or
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