Background: There is emerging evidence that the psychobiological mechanisms underlying behavioral addictions such as internet and videogame addiction resemble those of addiction for substances of abuse.
Objectives: Review of brain imaging, treatment and genetic studies on videogame and internet addiction.
Methods: Literature search of published articles between 2009 and 2013 in Pubmed using "internet addiction" and "videogame addiction" as the search word. Twenty-nine studies have been selected and evaluated under the criteria of brain imaging, treatment, and genetics.
Results: Brain imaging studies of the resting state have shown that long-term internet game playing affected brain regions responsible for reward, impulse control and sensory-motor coordination. Brain activation studies have shown that videogame playing involved changes in reward and loss of control and that gaming pictures have activated regions similarly to those activated by cue-exposure to drugs. Structural studies have shown alterations in the volume of the ventral striatum possible as result of changes in reward. Furthermore, videogame playing was associated with dopamine release similar in magnitude to those of drugs of abuse and that there were faulty inhibitory control and reward mechanisms videogame addicted individuals. Finally, treatment studies using fMRI have shown reduction in craving for videogames and reduced associated brain activity.
Conclusions and scientific significance: Videogame playing may be supported by similar neural mechanisms underlying drug abuse. Similar to drug and alcohol abuse, internet addiction results in sub-sensitivity of dopamine reward mechanisms. Given the fact that this research is in its early stage it is premature to conclude that internet addiction is equivalent to substance addictions.
© American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry.