The internet depends on a vast network of fibre optic cables that ferry the billions of parcels of data around the globe. It’s an unfortunate irony therefore that internet addiction – an affliction made possible by these information pathways – appears to damage the brain's own fibre network. In online addicts, the biological bridges that link different brain areas, called white matter, are significantly reduced (indicated by red areas in these brain maps) in zones associated with mediating craving and compulsive behaviours. Without these areas functioning properly, resisting the urge to log on becomes even more difficult. Finding ways to protect or regenerate white matter could provide a potential new treatment target for internet addiction, which is a growing problem. Prevalence rate estimates vary greatly but some think that 8% of the population in Europe and North America are affected, with even higher rates in Asia.
Written by Jan Piotrowski