How Does Your Prefrontal Control Relate To Internet Addiction?

The following article is a summary of the review paper entitled, “Prefrontal control and Internet addiction: a theoretical model and review of neuropsychological and neuroimaging findings” by Brand, Matthias, Kimberly Young and Christian Laier, as published 27 May 2014 in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience*:

While many people have control over their Internet usage and use it as a tool, some have lost that self control, resulting in negative and social personal consequences. This conclusion is based on a review of existing literature and on the authors’ experiences.

The world-wide scientific community has not yet standardized terminology nor testing related to Internet overuse that results in psychosocial distress. Nor has sufficient research been performed. In fact, the standard reference for American’s mental disorders, the DSM-5, includes only Internet Gaming Disorder. Certainly, however, other Internet-related disorders do occur.

The authors of the review article seek to determine why some people experience loss of self-control related to the Internet. Their hypothesis is that the loss of control occurs in part due to Internet-cues disrupting prefrontal processes.

One model of Internet Addiction states that addiction is linked to either a poor off-line social support and the negative feelings that result from that, or from a pre-disposition for a specific addiction (such as pornography) that happens to be available online. The authors add to this model the effect of negative and positive reinforcements that condition behavior. Expectations can also play a role in creating or maintaining addictive behavior. Expectancies, goals and needs, personality traits, predispositions and mental/emotional disorders can also play a role.

Our prefrontal cortex has been linked to our ability to control conscious behavior. The results of a study that utilized the Game of Dice Task, “suggest that patients with Internet addiction may have reductions in prefrontal control and other executive functioning.”

Neuroimaging has shown that excessive or frequent Internet gaming can change the volume of cells in various areas of the brain. While one study mentioned in the paper reported increased gray matter density, the other studies reported a reduced volume. Other studies provide tentative suggestions that people with Internet addiction have a modified dopamine system that may play a role in loss of control.

Research on Internet Addiction is increasing and tends to indicate that functional changes in certain areas of the brain are correlated to Internet addiction. Indeed, it appears "that prefrontal control processes are reduced in individuals who are addicted to the Internet and may be related to the patients’ loss of control over their Internet use."

Nevertheless, more research is needed on (1) stimuli related to the Internet and brain function, (2) "different types of Internet addiction," and (3) on women. Additionally, research that has already been performed needs to be repeated in different countries and on another age group (i.e., if the research has been done on adults, it needs to be done on adolescents, and vice versa).

People with lower pre-frontal control processes seem to have less ability to utilize coping mechanisms. This, tied with the reinforcements offered by the Internet, create a myopic, Internet-based view of the world. All of this needs to be taken into account by the clinician.

In conclusion, research on Internet Addiction has produced similar results to research on other forms of addiction. The authors of this review agree with other authors in that "this clinically relevant disorder should be classified as a behavioral addiction."

*You can read the original article here:

Sexual Addiction Explained

The criterion to screen addictive/compulsive behavior is “loss of freedom to choose whether or not to engage in a behavior (compulsively), continuation of the behavior despite adverse consequences related to the behavior (consequences, and obsession with the behavior” (Cooper, 2002, p. 148). There are various behaviors that can be considered sexually compulsive or addictive. These include masturbation, repeated affairs, pornography, cyber sex, phone sex, multiple anonymous partners, unsafe sexual activity, objectification, strip clubs, prostitution, voyeurism, exhibitionism, and other paraphilias.

How many people deal with Sexual Addiction?

Patrick Carnes, a leading researcher in the sexual addiction field, in 1991 did a study in which he stated that 3-6% of the general population has a problem with sex addiction (Ragan, et al, 2000, p. 164). This is a significant amount of people.

Consequences of Sexual Addiction

Sharon Nathan said “What appears undeniable is that there are people who are troubled by a sense that they cannot curb, control, or modify their sexual behavior, even when they are aware of the negative, social, medical, and or financial consequences that attend their inability to do so” (Ragan, et al, 2000, p. 162). Consequences include legal problems, isolation and loneliness, neglect of family and friends, financial problems occupational impairments, STI’s, shame, and anxiety. In a study by Donald Black, M.D. et al, 36 subjects who reported sexually compulsive behavior were asked the question “Why they felt their sexual thoughts, behaviors, or urges were a problem? 61% listed guilt, 47% listed feedback from others, 14% listed health problems, 11% listed financial consequences, and 8% listed the amount of time consumed” (Black et al, 1997, p. 247).

Sexual Addiction is a process addiction

A process addiction is when a person is addicted to a process rather than a substance ingested in their body.

Sexual Addiction as Emotional Coping

Sexual addiction is a way of coping with depression, anxiety, or any other uncomfortable emotion. “The addiction is an altered state of consciousness in which “normal” sexual behavior pales by comparison in terms of excitement and relief from troubles” (Carnes, 2001). There are not many things that can compete with the immediate gratification and pleasure the one feels while sexually acting out. It then becomes a cycle, in which the addict feels emotionally uncomfortable and relieves the discomfort with temporary relief and pleasure. Patrick Carnes said “within the addictive system, sexual experience becomes the reason for being, the primary relationship for the addict” (2001). Sexual addiction is lonely. It is a place of toxic shame and worthlessness.

Sexual Addiction and Treatment

Sexual addiction becomes a person’s automatic response to any kind of uncomfortable emotions or stress. The goal of treatment is to bring an automatic or unconscious response to awareness and find a new corrective process to deal with stress. This takes time but there is hope. The person must make the decision everyday to engage in recovery and find new ways of soothing. The condition for healing is created by following the principals of consistency, duration, and frequency. Every time an individual chooses to engage in something healthy rather than their addiction, they are changing. As they make these choices consistently, frequently, and for a period of time, they heal. Treatment includes concepts of toxic shame, empathy, relationships, forgiveness, healthy sexuality, relapse prevention, stress management, and emotional regulation. Treatment is a comprehensive look at the person’s life to help make lasting change.