Published: Sun, December 03, 2017
Health Care | By Alberto Manning

Smartphone addiction can mess up your brain chemistry, study suggests

Smartphone addiction can mess up your brain chemistry, study suggests

The findings were presented recently at the Radiological Society of North America's annual meeting, which took place in Chicago.

The brains of the teenage boys that were addicted to their phones had higher levels of the neurotransmitter "GABA" compared to the teenage boys that weren't addicted to their phones.

"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.

Researchers looked at the brains of 19 teenage boys that were addicted to their smartphones in comparison to the brain images of 19 teenage boys that weren't addicted to their smartphones.

The researchers used a form of MRI called magnetic resonance spectroscopy to examine the chemical composition of the brains.

A recent Pew Research Center study indicated that 46% of Americans believe that they can't live without their smartphones.

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The study enrolled 19 patients, with an average age of 15, who were diagnosed with internet or smartphone addiction and 19 matched healthy participants. These increased ratios of Glx and GABA were significantly correlated with the clinical scales of smartphone and internet addictions, depression and anxiety. 12 of the addicted youth received nine weeks of cognitive behavioural therapy, modified from a cognitive therapy programme for gaming addiction.

Prior researches had indicated GABA to be involved in motor and vision control as well as the regulation of numerous brain functions, like anxiety.

The study "adds some scientific evidence that excessive use of these smartphones is having an impact in the brain which might be similar to other addictive disorders", said Dr. Edwin Salsitz, an addiction medicine specialist with Mount Sinai Beth Israel in New York City. And the researchers have claimed that higher the addiction, higher were the symptoms of diseases like insomnia, depression and anxiety. Twelve of the group received cognitive behavioral therapy, based on a similar program created to help people addicted to video games.

Elevated levels of GABA essentially have several side effects including anxiety and drowsiness.

"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", said Dr. Seo in a press release.

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