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Internet overuse can trigger a drug-like addiction, warn experts in MP

bhopal Updated: Jan 27, 2016 18:20 IST
Neeraj Santoshi
Neeraj Santoshi
Hindustan Times
Internet overuse

Experts said logout is the hardest button to press nowadays.(Representative image)

Overuse of internet, tabs, mobile phones is triggering neurobiological changes in the brain like drugs and is fast settling as an addiction, psychiatrists warned during a four-day psychiatry conference held recently in Madhya Pradesh.

They said ‘logout is the hardest button to press nowadays’ and quoted studies which showed that about 11% internet and cellphone users in India were suffering from ‘iDisorder (disorder caused by internet addiction). In the US, the addiction level is 9 %, Indian Psychiatric Society president G Prasad Rao said.

The psychiatrists were talking to HT on the sidelines of the national conference of the Indian Psychiatric Society (IPS) in Bhopal.

‘Increase in internet penetration at a younger age contributing to the addiction’

Rao said, “The increase in internet penetration, use of smart phones at a younger age and growth of information technology in general were contributing to the addiction. The age group 11 to 25 is particularly vulnerable. But, we have found that it was also affecting other age groups too, like middle-aged people.”

The World Psychiatric Association’s first Indian-origin president Dinesh Bhugra, however, said that more studies were required to identify how internet and cell phones were affecting people and their relationships.

“I think internet is an evolving medium and it will ultimately arrive at some balance on its own, with its users coming up with some sort of code or guidelines for its proper usage”, he said. There was need to assess as to at which age parents needed to expose their children to internet and mobiles.

Murshidabad Medical College psychiatry head Ranjan Bhattacharyya, who had been engaged in a research on the issue, claimed that the addiction to modern gadgets and technologies across generations had increased about four times. He quoted a study in this regard.

‘People now prefer to socialise on internet more and more rather than face-to-face’

Bhattacharyya said internet as a new mode of communication had ended up weakening family bonds as emoticons have replaced emotions. “People now prefer to socialise on internet more and more rather than face-to-face.” He said the habit takes over gradually. “It starts as an impulsive activity and gradually develops into a compulsive activity due to neuro-adaptation. This is fuelling internet and mobile phone addiction,” he said. He also cited a relationship study on the issue and said that excessive selfie-posting, photo-editing were indicative of personality disorders and could be likened to narcissism. Overuse of these mediums and gadgets bring down productivity, increase stress, cause disturbances in sleep and depression syndrome, which might have a social fallout in terms of increased job losses, divorce rates, financial debts and academic failures, he said.

West Bengal psychiatrist Kaustav Chakraborty who has been studying ‘diagnosis and management of technological dependence’ said the compulsive internet use was found linked to morphological changes in the brain, with a 2009 study finding changes in the brain structures. “These neurobiological changes in brain are similar to chemical addiction and they show on MRI scans. Such scans show internet addicts had impaired grey and white matter integrity in the orbitofrontal cortex of the prefrontal regions of the brain,” he said, adding that motivational counselling, group and family therapy could help people overcome such addictions.

Manifestations of iDisorder

Digital amnesia : The habit of automatically going online to get answers to questions. The trend to look up information before even trying to recall it prevents the buildup of long term memories

Selfitis : It is an obsessive compulsive desire to take selfies and post them on social media to make up for the lack of self-esteem and to fill a gap in intimacy

Acute selfitis : It is defined as taking photos of one’s self at least three times a day and posting each of the photos to social media

Chronic selfitis : The uncontrollable urge to take photos of one’s surroundings round the clock and post them more than six times a day

Nomophobia : Also called “no-mobile-phobia,” it is growing fear of being without a mobile phone or beyond mobile phone contact

Technophobia : On the other extreme, it is the fear or dislike of modern technology particularly computers

Catfish : People who deliberately create fake personal profiles online to trick an unsuspecting person into falling in love with them are called ‘Catfish’

Cyberchondria : The anxiety induced by health related excessive online search causing hypochondriasis (fear of having a serious idleness)