Web addicts have brain changes similar to those hooked on drugs or alcohol, preliminary research suggests.
Experts in China scanned the brains of 17 young web addicts and found disruption in the way their brains were wired up.
They say the discovery, published in Plos One, could lead to new treatments for addictive behaviour.
Internet addiction is a clinical disorder marked by out-of-control internet use.
A research team led by Hao Lei of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Wuhan carried out brain scans of 35 men and women aged between 14 and 21.
Seventeen of them were classed as having internet addiction disorder (IAD) on the basis of answering yes to questions such as, “Have you repeatedly made unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back or stop Internet use?”
Specialised MRI brain scans showed changes in the white matter of the brain - the part that contains nerve fibres - in those classed as being web addicts, compared with non-addicts.
There was evidence of disruption to connections in nerve fibres linking brain areas involved in emotions, decision making, and self-control.
Dr Hao Lei and colleagues write in Plos One: “Overall, our findings indicate that IAD has abnormal white matter integrity in brain regions involving emotional generation and processing, executive attention, decision making and cognitive control.