Medical

Smartphone addiction has one more side-effect - brain imbalance

Smartphone addiction has one more side-effect - brain imbalance

And though the long-term effects of screen time are still being studied, the effects of excessive internet and smartphone use are well-documented.

Researchers have found an imbalance in the brain chemistry of young people addicted to smartphones and the internet, according to a study presented today at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).

Researchers also performed a magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) to study the brain chemistry of the participants both before and after the cognitive behavioral therapy.

Results of the MRS showed increased levels of gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter that slows brain signals, and glutamate-glutamine (Glx), a neurotransmitter that causes neurons to become electrically excited, in the anterior cingulate cortex of patients with smartphone and internet addiction. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, implying that it pieces nerve cells from terminating. GABA is involved in vision and motor control and the regulation of various brain functions, including anxiety.

For most people, checking email first thing in the morning or spending an hour scrolling though Instagram after work does not signify an internet addiction.

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"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. Studies from around the world have found that the rates of internet addiction in young people range from less than 1 percent to 18 percent.

The team enrolled 19 young people with a mean age of 15.5 years, who were diagnosed with smartphone or Internet addiction and 19 gender-and-aged-matched healthy controls. Questions focused on the extent to which internet or smartphone use affected their daily routine, social life, productivity, sleeping patterns and emotions. The addicted youth also reported higher instances of depression, anxiety, insomnia severity and impulsiveness, in comparison with the "healthy" controls.

Due to the small sample size used in the study, Wintermark stressed that it's too early to say that the chemical imbalances observed in the teens' brains are linked to clinical problems such as anxiety and depression.

This study should be followed up in a larger group of participants with scans tracking more brain chemicals, the experts said.

However, the study found that GABA to Glx ratios in them significantly decreased or normalized after cognitive behavioral therapy, said the study on a positive note.


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