Study Links Regular Smartphone Usage to Brain Damage

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In a world where usage of smartphone is becoming inevitable, as students rely on social media to socialize, depend on Goggle for their assignments, with workers not left out of the whole digital development; a new study has found that this constant usage physically affects the brain the same way drug addiction does, leading to damage of the brain.

Regions in the brain known as grey matter showed changes in size and shape for people with social media addiction, according to a study published in the journal Addictive Behaviors.

Grey matter controls a person’s emotions, speech, sight, hearing, memory and self-control. Other studies have reported similar brain alterations due to drug usage.

Study Links Regular Smartphone Usage to Brain Damage
Study Links Regular Smartphone Usage to Brain Damage

“Given their widespread use and increasing popularity, the present study questions the harmlessness of smartphones, at least in individuals that may be at increased risk for developing smartphone-related addictive behaviors,” reads the study by researchers from Heidelberg University in Germany.

According to several researches, in Nigeria, over 24% of kids from 8 to 12 years old have their own smartphones and 67% of their teenage counterparts do, with younger teenagers using an average of about six hours’ worth of entertainment media daily.

A rescue time survey in the United States shows that the average American spends around four hours a day on their smartphone.

Companies like Apple and Android provide features that help users manage their screen time, while other apps like Moment and Freedom help smartphone junkies block access to certain apps and websites.

In order to check the relation between smartphones and damage of the brain, Hyung Suk Seo, M.D., professor of Neuroradiology at Korea University in Seoul, South Korea, and colleagues used magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) to gain unique insight into the brains of smartphone- and internet-addicted teenagers. MRS is a type of MRI that measures the brain’s chemical composition.

The study involved 19 young people (mean age 15.5, 9 males) diagnosed with internet or smartphone addiction and 19 gender- and age-matched healthy controls. Twelve of the addicted youth received nine weeks of cognitive behavioural therapy, modified from a cognitive therapy programme for gaming addiction, as part of the study.

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Researchers used standardized internet and smartphone addiction tests to measure the severity of internet addiction. Questions focused on the extent to which internet and smartphone use affects daily routines, social life, productivity, sleeping patterns and feelings.

“The higher the score, the more severe the addiction,” Dr Seo said.

Dr Seo reported that the addicted teenagers had significantly higher scores in depression, anxiety, insomnia severity and impulsivity.

The researchers performed MRS exams on the addicted youth prior to and following behavioural therapy and a single MRS study on the control patients to measure levels of gamma aminobutyric acid, or 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. Previous studies have found GABA to be involved in vision and motor control and the regulation of various brain functions, including anxiety.

The results of the MRS 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.

Dr Seo said 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.

More study is needed to understand the clinical implications of the findings, but Dr Seo believes that increased GABA in the anterior cingulate gyrus in internet and smartphone addiction may be related to the functional loss of integration and regulation of processing in the cognitive and emotional neural network.

The good news is GABA to Glx ratios in the addicted youth significantly decreased or normalized after 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,” Dr. Seo said.

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