Smartphone addiction is more dangerous than we thought – it creates an imbalance in brain chemistry.

Along with a growing concern that people spend too much time staring at their phones, instead of interacting with others, is the immediate and long-term effects smartphone addiction has on the brain.

To find out, researchers used magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) to gain unique insight into the brains of 19 teenagers diagnosed with smartphone- and internet addiction.

MRS is a type of MRI that measures the brain’s chemical composition.

Twelve participants received nine weeks of cognitive behavioural therapy, modified from a cognitive therapy program for gaming addiction, as part of the study.

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The smartphone-addicted teenagers had significantly higher scores in depression, anxiety, insomnia severity and impulsivity.

Using standardised internet and smartphone addiction tests, researchers measured the severity of their addiction.

“The higher the score, the more severe the addiction,” says Hyung Suk Seo, M.D., professor of neuroradiology at Korea University in Seoul, South Korea, and colleagues

The smartphone-addicted teenagers had significantly higher scores in depression, anxiety, insomnia severity and impulsivity.

Related: Is your smartphone giving you ADHD symptoms?

Measuring neurotransmitters

The researchers performed MRS exams on the addicted youth before and after behavioural therapy and a single MRS study on the control patients.

Researchers were looking at the levels of gamma aminobutyric acid – GABA – a neurotransmitter in the brain that inhibits or slows down brain signals, and glutamate-glutamine (Glx), a neurotransmitter that causes neurons to become more electrically excited.

The results revealed that, compared to the healthy controls, the ratio of GABA to Glx was significantly increased in the anterior cingulate cortex of smartphone- and internet-addicted youth prior to therapy.

Reversing smartphone side-effects

The ratios of GABA to creatine and GABA to glutamate were significantly correlated to clinical scales of internet and smartphone addictions, depression and anxiety.

Having too much GABA can result in a number of side effects, including drowsiness and anxiety.

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

Source: Radiological Society of North America via www.sciencedaily.com

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