Smartphone and internet addiction can cause a chemical imbalance in the brain, especially in young people, according to new research released this week at the Radiological Society of North America.
As scientists continue to evaluate the physical and emotional effects of an increasingly screen-dependent population, researchers in South Korea found that teenagers addicted to their smartphones had increased levels of two types of neurotransmitters involved in a number of emotional and cognitive functions.
They included gamma aminobutyric acid, or GABA, which slows down brain signals and is involved in vision and motor control and helps regulate emotions including anxiety. The second chemical is glutamate-glutamine (Glx) and is known to cause neurons to fire more rapidly.
The study evaluated 19 young people with an average age of 15, who were diagnosed with an internet or smartphone addiction, compared to 19 healthy-controls. The addicted youth also reported higher instances of depression, anxiety, insomnia severity and impulsiveness, in comparison with the “healthy” controls.
Using a Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (MRS) brain scan, researchers found that the addicted youth had higher elevations of both GABA and Glx compared to the controls, although the researchers said more study is needed to understand the exact implications of the imbalance.
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.
The study was led by Dr. Hyung Suk Seo, a professor of neuroradiology at Korea University in Seoul.
• Laura Kelly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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