WEB surfers hooked on their laptops develop brain damage which is almost identical to cocaine junkies and alcoholics, according to new findings.
Researchers compared the neural scans of young people diagnosed with "internet addiction disorder" with those of their non-web addicted peers and found damage to the white matter fibres connecting the emotional processing, attention and decision making parts of the brain.
The impairments mirrored those found in alcohol and cocaine users.
The scientists in China said the study could help develop a treatment, although they admitted they do not know whether the changes to the brain are the cause or consequence of internet addiction.
An un-named researcher quoted in China's Public Library of Science One journal said: “The findings suggest that white matter integrity may serve as a potential new treatment target in internet addiction disorder.”
Henrietta Bowden Jones, consultant psychiatrist at Imperial College, London, who runs Britain's only NHS clinic for internet addicts, said: “The majority of people we see with serious internet addiction are gamers – people who spend long hours in roles in various games that cause them to disregard their obligations.
“I have seen people who stopped attending university lectures, failed their degrees or their marriages broke down because they were unable to emotionally connect with anything outside the game.”