March 22, 2018

Smartphone addiction can lead to chemical imbalance in brain

04 December 2017, 02:53 | Rodolfo Wallace

Addiction to smartphones in teenagers can lead to an imbalance in brain chemistry that triggers depression and anxiety

With the average age for a child to get their first phone now just 10 teenagers are becoming more and more reliant on their smartphones. And a worrying new study suggests that this dependence on the technology could even be affecting some teens brains

Are they always online, checking social media, or looking at cat and bunny videos?

"This particular region is well-known to be involved in addiction based upon the modulation of those kinds of behaviors", said Dr. Christopher Whitlow, an associate professor of radiology with the Wake Forest Substance Addiction and Abuse Center in Winston-Salem, N.C.

The effects of excessive internet and smartphone use have been well-documented.

Approximately 46 percent Americans admit the fact that they cannot live without their smartphones, stated in Pew Research Centre study.

Hyung Suk Seo, M.D., professor of neuroradiology at Korea University in Seoul, South Korea, and colleagues used magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) to gain unique insight into the brains of smartphone- and internet-addicted teenagers.

"Teens who are addicted to their phones and the Internet have a chemical imbalance in their brains that predisposes them to depression and anxiety", Medical News Today reported the hypothesis of the scientist.

In an attempt to do that, a research presented at the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) has claimed that excessive usage of phones & internet could create a chemical imbalance in the brain and alter the overall chemistry of the brain.

The researchers took brain scans of 19 young people diagnosed with internet or smartphone addiction, and compared them to 19 healthy controls.

Therefore, just as any other addiction, such as gambling or alcohol, smartphone, and internet addiction have significant consequences on the person.

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An MRS is a form of MRI that can reveal changes that occur in the chemical composition of the brain.

Through standardized tests, multiple questions were put in front of the people to analyze how smartphone and internet affect their daily routine, sleeping patterns, social life, etc.

According to Dr. Seo, the ratios of GABA to creatine and GABA to glutamate correspond highly to clinical scales of internet and smartphone addictions, anxiety and depression.

Participants also completed tests to measure the severity of their addiction.

The addicted teens underwent MRS both before and after CBT, while the control group was only examined using MRS once. GABA is found in the brain of every single person in the world. GABA balances out the effect of Glx, which is an excitatory neurotransmitter that speeds up electric signaling in the brain.

Results showed that addicted teenagers had much higher GABA levels, and lower Glx levels than the controls. It was found the addicted teens scored really high in impulsiveness, anxiety, depression and insomnia.

CBT starts by breaking down a large problem into smaller, more manageable areas and then works to stop any negative thought processes.

The MRS results showed that compared to the healthy teens, the GABA to Glx ratio was significantly higher in the anterior cingulate cortex of addicted teens before the therapy. Still, this idea is yet to be confirmed by further clinical studies.

"The increased GABA levels and disrupted balance between GABA and glutamate in the anterior cingulate cortex may contribute to our understanding the pathophysiology of and treatment for addictions", Dr. Seo said.

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