New research studying the effects of Internet gambling on the brain points to damaging yet reversible brain changes.
The research was the result of a review of 13 previously published articles and was presented at the American Psychiatric Association 2014 Annual Meeting.
Researchers have associated Internet addiction with changes in blood flow in the brain as well as changes in dopamine. They explain that internet use, particularly when participating in internet gambling, can lead to an out of body experience, with enhanced reward sensitivity and indifference to behavior consequences.
They also reported a correlation between Internet addiction and mental health problems of suicide, depression, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, alcoholism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and eating disorders.
Sree Jadapalle, MD, a second-year psychiatry resident at Morehouse School of Medicine, discussed other troubling connections: “Some studies show that IAD may increase suicide attempts in the presence of depression.”
Internet addiction disorder is not currently considered to be a mental disorder; however it is defined as having a loss of control over the use of the Internet. Symptoms of Internet addiction include distress over nonuse, preoccupation with the Internet, mood changes from nonuse, low to no tolerance for going without it, and withdrawal symptoms when access to it is removed. People suffering from internet addiction will also experience functional impairments within their social, academic, or occupational performance.
Although it is not a recognized disorder in the United States, some countries have developed methods for treating Internet addictions.
“South Asian countries have some detox centers for Internet addiction that use some psychotherapeutic interventions,” Dr. Jadapalle explained at the annual meeting.
Some of the studies reviewed suggested the use of selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors for alleviation of symptoms.
Although previous studies had been done on Internet addiction, they did not take into consideration the present day use of mobile devices, instant messaging, and increased social networking. Jeffrey Borenstein, MD, president and CEO of Brain and Behavior Research Foundation in New York City, expressed concern for the effects on younger people.
“The Internet is here to stay… It’s important for us to study the effects of the connectedness that we experience, especially the effects on younger people.”