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Smartphone addiction could change your brain

02 December 2017, 08:24 | Melissa Porter

Scientists Find That Smartphone Addiction Alters Your Brain Chemistry

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

The research was presented yesterday (Nov. 30) at the Radiological Society of North America's annual meeting in Chicago.The paper, which was presented by lead study author Dr. Hyung Suk Seo, a professor of neuroradiology at Korea University in Seoul, South Korea, found an imbalance of chemicals in the brain of "internet-addicted" teenagers. What they found is enough to make you want to drop the Animal Crossing for a few hours.

The MRS procedure was meant to measure the levels of gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter that inhibits or slows down brain signals, and glutamate-glutamine (Glx), which causes neurons to be more electrically excited. Their task is to slow down brain signals and electrically excite neurons respectively.

"With appropriate intervention, the teens were able to basically correct those chemical changes" in their brains, Wintermark said.

Future researchers might also want to consider using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans, which can track the flow of blood and biochemicals within the brain, Kothare added.

Researchers conducted the study on 19 young individuals who were diagnosed with internet or smartphone addiction, and another group of 19 young individuals as the healthy controls. Questions focused on the extent to which internet and smartphone use affects daily routines, social life, productivity, sleeping patterns and feelings.

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.

Prior researches had indicated GABA to be involved in motor and vision control as well as the regulation of numerous brain functions, like anxiety. These teenagers also had significantly higher scores in depression, anxiety, insomnia and impulsivity than the control group (the participants whose scores did not indicate internet addiction).

Too much GABA has been linked to side effects including drowsiness and anxiety.

Internet or smartphone addiction can be compared to other forms of behavioral addiction, such as addiction to gambling or pornography, said Dr. Sanjeev Kothare, chief of the division of child neurology at Cohen's Children's Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y.

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

"The good news is that the chemical imbalance in addicted people significantly decreased or normalised after cognitive behavioral therapy".

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