How addictive Internet applications penetrate the rewards of our brains

How addictive Internet applications penetrate the rewards of our brains


Can we become addicted to the internet?

This is an issue discussed in a new review article published in Science from prof. Matthias Brand of the University of Duisburg-Essen.

The latest revision of the WHO Compendium on Global Health, the International Classification of Diseases (ICD), includes for the first time two types of addiction related to our use of the Internet: gambling and gaming disorders. This update reflects the unique way in which the Internet plays a role in our daily lives and affects our mental health.

As many as three percent of young people are estimated to suffer from gambling disorders, while unspecified Internet use disorders (ICD-11 also consider problematic pornography to be a subtype of compulsive sexual behavior disorder, with other potential diagnoses including problematic use of online shopping platforms or social networks). affect seven percent of the world’s population.

The “feel better” and “I have to do” paths.

In his article, Brand provides an overview of our current understanding of how behavioral addictions, such as gambling and gambling disorders, affect the brain. “We know from addiction research that, especially in the online environment, applications that are used addictively are clearly positively enhanced in terms of providing pleasure and rewards,” says Brand. Technological networks in conversation.

Anyone who has felt the micronal when a liking or sharing has appeared on the phone knows what Brand is talking about. The downside, Brand says, is that such applications also offer a “negative boost” – a chance to “escape reality and change negative moods.” Anyone who has clicked on a shopping platform to divert attention from a stressful or depressing day knows that many applications rely on this ability to tune their users’ psychology.

These two forms of strengthening are controlled by the cerebral pathway, which Brand’s article briefly calls “feeling better.” Previous research has found that the areas of the brain involved include frontal-striatal loops related to reward expectations and circuits in the ventral striatum, which are also known to play a role in substance use disorders. “When you perform an fMRI scan on subjects with an alcoholic disorder, such as giving them pictures of a glass of beer compared to neutral pictures, you usually see this activity of the ventral striatum,” says Brand.

These circuits, says Brand, govern the initial stages of addiction, whether alcohol or alcohol Fortnite, but later during the condition other areas of brain activity predominate. He collectively called these following topics the path “I must do.” This maps the process of addiction to addiction and compulsion, where behavior persists despite awareness of the damage it causes.

Drug addiction versus internet addiction

One of the key differences between addictive and non-substance addictions is that drugs such as alcohol and cocaine can actually cause neurotoxic damage to areas of the brain that would otherwise help users stop harmful behavior. This direct damage is not present in behavioral addictions.

But Brand is cautious to point out that he believes that gambling addiction or online gambling is not an option: “Every person has nerve adaptations related to virtually all behavior. This means that if you pay attention to specific behaviors often and very intensively, it can lead to nerve adaptations, which can also change your ability to control use, ”he says.

The birth of addiction

The final part of Brand’s contribution addresses some of the glaring gaps in our knowledge of how addiction begins and how it persists. The Internet is not only an integral part of the lives of the vast majority of people, but it is also something they use every day without becoming addicted. Why do some social network users rely entirely on buzzing notifications, while others can easily put off their phone?

Brand says the answer involves a vulnerability factor that is common to other mental disorders: genetic predisposition, early childhood trauma, and specific personality traits play a role.

A feature that these factors can affect, Brand says, is self-control – the ability to say “no” to the temptation of the screen or the bell from your phone. What is not clear, however, is whether the above vulnerability factors impair individuals’ ability to make beneficial decisions for themselves, or whether positive and negative empowerment is a causal factor in losing control of users.

The last unknown that Brand discusses is how specific the mechanisms of Internet addiction are. He points out that dependence on online applications and gaming platforms presents some unique obstacles to recovery. Unlike alcohol, for example, applications that want to keep users on the hook are actively modified based on previous activity to be as attractive and difficult to suppress as possible. In addition, for the vast majority of our population, it is impossible to avoid being online, such as cocaine. That is, Brand says, “complete abstinence is not a goal and cannot be a goal.”

Long-term studies that combine multiple types of analysis are needed to answer these questions, says Brand. If the causes of these addictions turned out to be Internet-specific, what could public health authorities do to help patients? Brand says there is no need to “stigmatize all players or anyone who uses online shopping”, but that regulators could focus on specific elements.

As potential targets, Brand mentions loot boxes, which bring an element of gambling to online gaming settings, and the harvesting of private data by social media networks as the price of free access to their platforms. Part of the solution, he concludes, will also be on the user’s side: “Early intervention and therapy should also be improved. I think it’s on both sides; you can work at a societal level, and I think that is important, and also at an individual level, to help people prevent this problematic behavior from developing. ”

Link: M brand, Can using the Internet become addictive? Science. 2022; 376 (6595). two:10.1126 / science.abn4189



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