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Is Internet Addiction Damaging Our Brains?

January 24, 2012

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Lost a few hours this weekend on Pinterest? You might jokingly call the site "addictive," but new studies suggest that you could be more right than you know.

The condition is called "Internet addiction disorder" (IAD), and we'll probably be hearing a lot more about it in the coming years. Even Deepak Chopra has weighed in on this 21st century problem.

While some doubt the existence of the disorder, research published in the science journal, PLoS ONE, suggests that obsessive Internet use can actually damage the brain, similar to alcohol or drug dependency. 

Brain scans of Internet-addicted participants showed reductions in their white matter, or the neuronal fiber pathways that connect parts of the brain together. Disruption of these pathways can negatively impact emotions, decision-making, and self-control. The study also suggested that if the addition continued, the changed brain structure would likely be permanent.

Sounds pretty scary, right? But there's no need to panic and toss out your "crackberry" just yet. True IAD means a person is literally unable to control their Internet use, at the expense of their lives and relationships. 

Most of us who kill and hour here and there on Etsy or Facebook are unlikely to undergo any permanent brain alteration. However, taking a technology time-out now and again is never a bad idea. You may even find it a relaxing change of pace.

Like Deepak says in the video, it's all about mindfulness when it comes to the Internet.

"Technology is not stoppable. That's the problem…. But what you can see is that when you practice mindfulness, you rewire the brain in a completely different direction."

Do you spend too much time surfing? What do you do to cut back on Internet dependency?