People who spend huge amounts of time on their phones have a "brain chemistry" that makes them more likely to be depressed, anxious, impulsive and sleepless, a new study finds.
Led by Hyung Suk Seo, MD, professor of neuroradiology at Korea University in Seoul, South Korea, work by researchers used magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS), a type of MRI that measures the brain's chemical composition, to gain insight into the effects of smartphone and internet addiction in young patients' brains.
Compared with the control group, the teens with internet and smartphone addiction showed a clear overabundance of a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in one region of the limbic system, the brain's emotional control center. Their task is to slow down brain signals and electrically excite neurons respectively.
"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.
MRS scans are used to track concentrations of biochemicals in the brain, and are often used to study changes wrought by brain tumors, strokes, mood disorders and Alzheimer's disease.
The team enrolled 19 young people with a mean age of 15.5 years, who were diagnosed with smartphone or Internet addiction and 19 gender-and-aged-matched healthy controls.
A study conducted by the researchers at Korea Universty has revealed that prolonged use of mobile devices could impact the chemical balance of people's brain.
The researchers found that the GABA to Glx ratio significantly decreased after the cognitive behavioral therapy.
"There have been multiple studies published [that link] addiction to alcohol and other substances with chemical imbalances in different regions of the brain, but this is the first study I've read about internet addiction" that shows such a link, Wintermark told Live Science.
Twelve addicted participants received cognitive behavioral therapy for nine weeks. Too much of GABA can result in a number of side effects, including drowsiness and anxiety. The participants whose scores indicated an addiction tended to saythat their internet and smartphone use interfered with their daily routines, social lives, sleep and productivity.
The study has not been peer-reviewed, but the findings do align with other studies that indicate smartphone and internet addiction can harm the mind.