Smartphone And Internet Addiction Causes Brain Imbalance

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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).

To achieve a unique insight into the brains of teenagers who are addicted to smartphones and the Internet, a team of researchers from the Korea University in Seoul, South Korea, led by Hyung Suk Seo, M.D., used magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS)-a type of MRI that measures the chemical composition of the brain. What they found is enough to make you want to drop the Animal Crossing for a few hours.

Brain scans also showed levels of gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), a chemical that slows down brain signals, and glutamine glutamate (Glx), a chemical that causes brain cells to become more electrically passionate, in the brain of each participant. It determined that the ratio of GABA to Glx in addicted teens was significantly higher before therapy than those recorded in the control subjects.

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.

The study enrolled 19 patients, with an average age of 15, who were diagnosed with internet or smartphone addiction and 19 matched healthy participants.

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The good news is GABA to Glx ratios in the addicted youth significantly decreased or normalized after cognitive behavioral therapy.

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.

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. The addicted youth also reported higher instances of depression, anxiety, insomnia severity and impulsiveness, in comparison with the "healthy" controls.

Previous research has found GABA to be involved in motor vision and control and regulation of various brain functions, including anxiety. Too much of GABA can result in a number of 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.

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