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Researchers are investigating the impact of online addiction on brain chemistry
Excessive use of the Internet and smartphones can have an impact on the brain. This is the conclusion reached by researchers from Korea University in Seoul. In a pilot study, the scientists examined a total of 38 young people and were able to demonstrate an impairment in the neurochemistry of the brain in the adolescents classified as “dependent”. The work was presented at the annual Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) meeting in Chicago.
The number of internet addicts is increasing
A day without a smartphone is hard to imagine for many people. Although the devices provide relief and comfort in many areas of life, excessive use can quickly become a danger. Because more and more people are affected by online addiction. Young people in particular are at high risk of becoming dependent on smartphones. Among other things, this can cause problems in the school and social areas. Korean scientists have now found that excessive use of the Internet and cell phones could potentially affect adolescent brain chemistry.
Experts warn of increasing online addiction among young people
Internet addiction is threatening more and more young people - experts have been warning about this for a long time. Studies on this topic have so far mainly focused on the question of the possible consequences of dependency for the social area. The team led by neuroradiologist Hyung Suk Seo from Korea University in Seoul has now investigated whether or to what extent excessive use of the Internet and smartphone also affects the chemical process in the brain.
Almost 40 adolescents examined
The study included 19 young women and men (mean age 15.5 years) diagnosed with internet or smartphone addiction, the Radiological Society of North America reports in a recent release. The control group consisted of 19 adolescents of comparable age and gender without online dependency. Twelve of the addicted adolescents received nine weeks of cognitive behavioral therapy as part of the study, which was a modification of a cognitive therapy program for gambling addiction.
Measure the degree of dependency
The researchers used standardized internet and smartphone addiction tests to measure the severity of the addiction. The focus was on the extent to which the Internet and smartphone influence everyday life, social life, productivity, sleeping habits and feelings.
"The higher the score, the harder the addiction," explains Prof. Seo according to the message. The experts had already shown in these tests that the dependent adolescents had significantly higher values for depression, anxiety, sleep disorders and impulsivity.
Magnetic resonance spectroscopy provides insight into brain chemistry
In the next step, the researchers carried out studies using magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) to gain an insight into the brain chemistry of the study participants. The MRS is a special procedure with which various chemical substances (metabolites) in living tissue can be identified and measured.
In the investigation, the researchers focused on the two neurotransmitters gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and glutamate (Glx). Previous studies had shown that GABA is involved in the visual and motor control and regulation of various brain functions, including anxiety, the report said.
Imbalance between GABA and Glx
The scientists came to an interesting result: In comparison to the control group, the smartphone and internet-dependent test subjects showed that the ratio of GABA to Glx in the so-called anterior cingulate cortex was significantly increased before the therapy. The shift clearly correlated with the extent of the subjects' internet and smartphone dependency and with their tendency to depression and anxiety, the experts report. Too much GABA can lead to a number of side effects, including sleepiness and anxiety.
Therapy can balance the situation again
But the scientists also have good news: The brain scan also showed that the GABA to Glx ratios in addicted adolescents had significantly decreased or normalized after cognitive behavior therapy. "The elevated GABA levels and the disturbed balance between GABA and glutamate in the anterior cingulate cortex could contribute to our understanding of the pathophysiology and treatment of addictions," said Dr. Seo.
Follow-up studies necessary
The researchers now need further studies to understand the clinical impact of the results. Dr. However, Seo and his colleagues assume that an elevated GABA level in the anterior cingulate gyrus could have a negative impact on emotional and cognitive processes in Internet and smartphone addicts, reports Korea University. (No)