Too much Web time could bother brain

By Shayna Brouker • Published: March 29th, 2012
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

It starts with a funny viral video your buddy emails you. That leads to another knee-slapper, and you just have to tweet about it. One of your followers replies, so you decide it must be good enough to share with your friends on Facebook. Next thing you know two hours have passed and all you’ve done is view videos and chat with friends.

Besides slashing productivity and taking time away from real world interaction, a slight Internet habit isn’t so bad, right? Maybe … or maybe not. New research published in the journal Public Library of Science One shows too much time surfing the web could affect not only social interaction, but your brain function, too.

A small Chinese study found that teenagers deemed addicted to the Internet have abnormal “white matter.” That’s the insulation surrounding the wiring between neurons in the brain. This white matter affects issues like decision-making … and impaired insulation could disconnect communication to the brain. The result is thinking a behavior is beneficial and should be repeated over and over.

What’s more, the areas of the brain identified in the research are the same involved in other addictions -― like alcohol, gambling and drugs. The Chinese teens admitted they were obsessed with the Internet and had tried several times unsuccessfully to cut down. They experienced mild withdrawal symptoms, such as feeling restless, irritable or depressed.

The idea of Internet addiction has not yet been embraced by the mental health community, though. But neglecting responsibilities like work or school because of the Web signals a problem. So does lying about computer use, feeling both guilty and excited when using the computer, and turning to the net when you’re sad or anxious. When cyberspace takes over your real world, it’s time to kick the computer to the curb and seek real help.