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Federal Research Center 
"Krasnoyarsk Science Center of the Siberian
Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences"

 Федеральный исследовательский центр «Красноярский научный центр Сибирского отделения Российской академии наук»

Federal Research Center 
"Krasnoyarsk Science Center of the Siberian
Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences"

Krasnoyarsk scientists are trying to figure out whether the Internet abundance can be harmful

9 September 2019 г.

Красноярские ученые разбираются, может ли навредить изобилие интернета
The scientists of the Institute of Medical Problems of the North of the Krasnoyarsk Science Center SB RAS analyzed the data available in scientific literature on neurobiological and genetic factors leading to Internet addiction in teenagers and adolescents. It is noted that studies on twins and various ethnic groups suggest that there should be a genetic predisposition to the Internet addiction; however, to date, these genes are not exactly identified. The results of the critical review are published in the journal Behavioral Sciences.

Due to the widespread use of smartphones, tablets and other gadgets which modern teenagers hardly ever part with, to be online all the time is not a problem. New and rather serious problems affecting psychological and somatic health are the price for this accessibility. The main one is Internet addiction.

How to understand that a child has a problem

“Internet addiction is a state of pathological addiction. Of course, now everyone is online, but there are teenagers who spend excessive time there. If they are disconnected from the virtual world, they may have withdrawal symptoms as in patients with chemical addictions, or develop depression, and aggressiveness. These adolescents are pathologically evading normal Internet communication, ” explains Sergei Tereshchenko, Doctor of Medical Sciences, head of the Clinical department of somatic and mental health of children at the Institute of Medical Problems of the North, FRC KSC SB RAS.

Like all diseases, Internet addiction has its own symptoms. It is accompanied by excessive, intrusive pastime on the Internet, leading to loss of time and neglect of the basic functions. A person dependent on the virtual world is characterized by: 1) an increase in the importance of the Internet in the system of personal values; 2) mood swings, outbreaks of aggression, anxiety or depression when the network is not available; 3) the need to spend more and more time on the network with the subsequent loss of hobbies, social relations, educational and sports opportunities; 4) quarrels, lies and failure of self-control due to the world wide web. We can talk about the disease when at least a few of the listed symptoms are observed. However, only a doctor can make an accurate diagnosis.

Addiction is not only a long “hanging out online”. Scientists also found its connection with depression, anxiety, social phobia, suicidal behavior, unmotivated aggression, attention deficit disorder, and even psychosomatic illnesses. As a rule, associated problems such as chronic headache, pain in the spine, problems with the gastrointestinal tract, and sleep disturbances are observed. “A deep and inadequate departure into the world of the Internet can be a sign of some kind of great mental illness, for example, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder etc.” says Sergei Tereshchenko.

Children and the Internet

Internet addiction is particularly acute in teenagers and adolescents. It complicates their socialization, leads to learning difficulties, creates stressful situations and hinders the ability to make a career and create a family. Along with an inclination to Internet addiction, children experience emotional disturbances. They are manifested in the awareness or suppression of their emotions, inability to express them, increased aggression and affective outbursts. Such children cannot actively and openly interact with others, they are not self-confident, their value system is violated, and there arise difficulties with identity.

Earlier in Russia, studies were conducted on the spread of Internet addiction among teenagers. 4% of children were found to be diagnosed with Internet addiction. Sergei Tereshchenko notes that scientists of the Krasnoyarsk Science Center SB RAS have already begun a similar study in Siberia. The specialists reviewed the data of three thousand teenagers in Krasnoyarsk. According to preliminary estimates, almost 7% of respondents are dependent on the Internet. This percentage is higher than in European countries, but lower than in Asian ones.

If it is a disease, can it be cured?

Internet addiction is a new phenomenon. Scientists have just started studying it. At the moment, there are no evidence-based prevention programs. The same situation is observed in the treatment of internet-addicted teens. However, various adaptation techniques are being developed; one of them is a method of distraction involving friends, parents or other relatives in this process. They should remind a child that he or she is sitting on the net or playing for too long so that the child should switch to another activity. There are other ways; among them are psychotherapeutic techniques, family and behavioral therapy. In severe cases, doctors try to use drugs. All these techniques are still under development; the scientists cannot say safely that they are effective in all cases. It is important to remember that an addicted child cannot simply be separated from the Internet. This can only worsen the situation and induce aggression.

Sergei Tereshchenko notes that Internet addiction can be a passing phenomenon. The scientists studied two groups of teenagers who spent excessive time on social networks and showed that with age, the addiction decreases. This means that a lot of teens will simply outgrow this hobby. “But there are severe cases, about 2-3%, in which the addiction remains,” the Doctor says.

Research performed by Krasnoyarsk scientists

Making a decision about the treatment is possible only when the reasons for internet addiction are know. The Krasnoyarsk scientists analyzed world studies in this field, which show that the predisposition to it can be due to both genetic characteristics and family, social and ethnocultural environmental factors. The possible role of heredity and genetics is evidenced by data obtained on twins and various ethnic groups.

In order to verify the assumptions of researchers from different countries, scientists of the FRC KSC SB RAS launched a project to study the prevalence of various types of Internet addiction in teenagers of large ethnically different cities in central Siberia - Krasnoyarsk, Abakan, Kyzyl. The Krasnoyarsk researchers are planning to consider the psychiatric characteristics of teenagers in various ethno-geographical regions of Russia, reasons for their departure to the world of the Internet and psychosomatic consequences. It is hoped that during the study, candidate genes responsible for predisposition to Internet addiction will be found.

“There are theoretical prerequisites for the fact that there are innate causes of a predisposition to Internet addiction, which are the genetically programmed secretion of certain neurotransmitters. If they are found, then it may be possible to synthesize pharmacological preparations for the treatment of severe cases. It will also be possible to assess the degree of genetic risk, with some probability to predict the emergence of Internet addiction, develop strategies for early prevention as well as new approaches for treating the disease, ”says the head of the research group, Sergey Tereshchenko.

The project of the Krasnoyarsk scientists on the study of Internet addiction among teenagers and adolescents in Siberia is supported by the Russian Foundation for Basic Research.