Background: Neuropsychiatry is now witnessing a consistently increasing number of reports in peer reviewed literature suggesting that internet use may have addictive potential, conglomerated and mediated through reward pathway and akin to substance abuse.
Methods: We searched for papers indexed in PubMed/Medline with various combinations of the following terms; Internet use, Internet overuse, Internet Addiction, Social Networking Site, Gaming Disorder, Dopamine, Hippocampus, Limbic system, Neural mechanisms, Nucleus accumbens, Prefrontal cortex, Reward system, and Stress. Literature obtained from this search was subjected to certain inclusion/exclusion defining a focused review question of the neuropsychiatric effects of internet use/overuse. The papers included were subjected to deductive analysis and results were then obtained as per the conceptual outlook of current neuropsychiatry.
Results: Various neuroimaging studies performed on heavy internet users have demonstrated extensive gray and white matter changes and other organizational variations in the brain. Extensive internet use can also precipitate stress propensity in users manifesting as easy fatigue, sleep disturbances, headache, reduced work efficiency, psychological disturbances and neurological problems including, but not limited to, irritation, anxiety, obsessive-compulsion, indecisiveness, impulsivity, loss of working memory, and similar neurocognitive ailments. Exhaustive use of internet may also reflect on the changing food preferences in the form of meeting instant energy needs, higher intake of stimulant beverages, and presumably novel liking for smoking or use of addictive substances to relieve the accumulated mental strain.
Conclusions: The present analysis explains the implied neural mechanisms of compulsive internet overuse, and also suggests the possible means to deal with the health problems arising from this phenomenon which is emerging as a serious public health concern.
Keywords: Addiction, dopamine, hippocampus, internet overuse, limbic system, neural mechanisms, nucleus accumbens, prefrontal cortex, reward system, stress.