RSNA 2017: Smartphone addiction causes imbalance in brain chemistry

Faith Castro
December 3, 2017

That's because they have more of a chemical called GABA, which slows down brain signals, and less of a substance known as glutamate-glutamine, which causes neurons to become electrically excited.

The research found that the ratios of GABA to two other important acids - creatine and glutamate were directly related to how people were addicted to the internet and their phones, along with depression and anxiety as reported in the Independent. There could be more than ten reasons why people use a smartphone, but a recent study might make people think about ditching their digital friends altogether.

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.

Fortunately, scientists also determined that the imbalance was totally reversible in just a few weeks using cognitive behavioral therapy.

"GABA to Glx was significantly increased in the anterior cingulate cortex of smartphone- and internet-addicted youth prior to therapy", says a release from the Radiological Society of North America.

The experiment involved 38 young people with an average age of 15.5, half of whom were diagnosed with internet or smartphone addiction, while the rest formed the healthy control group. "The results show that adolescents who are addicted to the device have a higher rate of depression, anxiety, insomnia and impulsive violence than those who are not addicted", said Professor Hyung Suk Seo, lead author of the study, as quoted by page Daily Mail, Friday (12/1/2017).

Statistics published by the Pew Research Center state that 46 percent of Americans claim that they could not live without their smartphones.

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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 higher the score, the worse the addiction".

Twelve of the teens that were addicted to their smartphones underwent cognitive behavioral therapy.

"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".

As part of the study, the addicted youth were enrolled in cognitive behavioral therapy, which showed positive signs of normalizing the chemical imbalance, the researchers said.

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

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