Internet Addiction Disorder is characterized by an individual’s inability to control their online usages, and recently Hao Lei of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Wuhan and colleagues found that the condition may be attributed to an abnormal white matter structure found in the brain.

Previous studies have generally relied on psychological questionnaires to understand the disorder, but researchers from the study recently published in the Jan. 11 issue of PLoS ONE had all participants undergo brain scans to evaluate the differences between !AD sufferers and controls.

Researchers found that IAD participants had decreased volume in several areas of their brain, and that there was a negative relationship between volume and length of time participants had been addicted to the Internet. The longer IAD sufferers were addicted, the less volume they had in certain areas of the brain.

Researchers also found impaired connections in white matter tracts between brain cells, suggesting that there may be disruptions in how neurons communicate to one another.

Researcher said that people diagnosed with IAD have brain changes similar to those affected by other addictions, like drugs and alcohol. Brain areas that governed emotional processing, executive thinking skills and attention, and cognitive control all seem to be affected in people with IAD.

Not only do people with IAD spend a lot of time on the computer, but they also have problems like “impaired individual psychological well-being, academic failure and reduced work performance,” according to researchers.

IAD is a relatively new disorder that is not universally recognized, and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), the “gold standard” for psychological diagnosis, does not include IAD as a psychological disorder.

About 14 percent of Chinese urban youths are addicted to the internet, according to an announcement from the China Youth Internet Association last year, which is in total 24 million the researchers noted.