While many adults would probably agree that their phones and devices tend to play too large a role in their lives, there is a growing concern about heavy smartphone use among adolescents and young people. While we know millions of digital natives tend to interact through their devices more often than they interact in person, it is not yet understood what long-term impact this has on the brain.

Hyung Suk Seo, M.D., professor of neuroradiology at Korea University in Seoul, South Korea, along with his colleagues, examined the brains of teens diagnosed with Internet and smartphone addiction. Using magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) similar to an MRI, the study compared the chemical composition of different sections of brain tissue.

The Korean study involved 38 male participants with a mean age of 15.5 years. Half of the adolescents had been diagnosed with smartphone or Internet addiction, while the other half served as healthy controls. Addiction severity was judged using standardized questionnaires and testing focused on social life, activities of daily living, sleep patterns and feelings. Twelve of the addicted young men also participated in nine weeks of cognitive behavioral therapy during the study.

Dr. Seo and his team found that addicted teens had notably higher depression, insomnia, anxiety and impulsivity scores.

MRS exams were performed before and after therapy sessions for the addicted youth, and once for control patients. Tests measured levels of (1) gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), a brain neurotransmitter that slows brain signals, and (2) glutamate-glutamine (Glx), a neurotransmitter that increases neuron excitement. GABA is believed to play a role in motor control and regulation of anxiety, among other things.

MRS Results Among Addicted & Healthy Young Adults
The MRS results indicated that GABA / Glx ratios were “significantly increased in the anterior cingulate cortex of smartphone and internet-addicted youth prior to therapy.” Though more research is needed to explore the implications of this study, Dr. Seo believes GABA increases in this region of the brain could be related to a reduced ability to integrate and regulate processing in an individual’s emotional and cognitive neural networks.

The good news: Teen GABA to Glx ratios returned to a more “normal” state at the completion of cognitive behavioral therapy sessions. “The increased GABA levels and disrupted balance between GABA and glutamate in the anterior cingulate cortex may contribute to our understanding of the pathophysiology of and treatment for addictions,” said Dr. Seo.

Get Help for Smartphone & Substance Addiction
A recent Pew Research Center study reported that half of younger adults live in a household with three or more smartphones, and that 46% of smartphone owners say they “could not live without” their device. If cell phone or internet dependency is part of your dual diagnosis or substance abuse cycle, Boca Detox can help. The first days of recovery are the most difficult, but Boca Detox offers the committed, medically supervised help you need to begin an addiction-free future. Call a specialist to request admission or verify insurance now: 561.271.7612.

Radiological Society of North America. “Smartphone addiction creates imbalance in brain, study suggests.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 30 November 2017. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/11/171130090041.htm>

Pew Research Center, “10 Facts About Smartphones as the iPhone Turns 10.” Accessed Dec. 6, 2017 <http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/06/28/10-facts-about-smartphones/>