Magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) images show an imbalance in the brain chemistry of young people addicted to smartphones and the internet, according to a study presented at RSNA.
Researchers from South Korea performed a prospective study to assess changes in neurotransmitters in internet- and smartphone-addicted youth compared with normal controls and after cognitive behavioral therapy, and to identify the correlations between neurotransmitters and affective factors related to addiction.
Nine males and 10 females aged 11 to 17 (mean age 15.5) diagnosed with internet or smartphone addiction and 19 gender- and age-matched healthy controls participated in the study. Twelve of the addicted youth received nine weeks of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), modified from a cognitive therapy program for gaming addiction, as part of the study.
The researchers used MEGA-press MRS to measure GABA and glutamate-glutamine (Glx) levels in the anterior cingulate cortex. GABA and Glx levels in the addicted group were compared to controls and after nine weeks of CBT. GABA and Glx levels were correlated to clinical scales of internet and smartphone addictions, impulsiveness, depression, anxiety, insomnia, and sleep quality.
The results showed brain-parenchymal and gray-matter volume adjusted GABA to creatine ratios and GABA to Glx ratios were significantly increased in subjects with internet and smartphone addictions. After nine weeks of CBT, brain-parenchymal and gray-matter volume adjusted GABA to creatine ratios and brain-parenchymal volume adjusted GABA to Glx ratio were significantly decreased. Glx was not statistically significant. Most brain-parenchymal and gray-matter volume adjusted GABA to creatine ratios and GABA to Glx ratios were significantly correlated with clinical scales of internet and smartphone addictions, depression, and anxiety.
The researchers concluded that the increased GABA level and disrupted balance between GABA and glutamate in the anterior cingulate cortex may contribute to understanding the pathophysiology of and treatment for internet and smartphone addictions. “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,” Hyung Suk Seo, MD, professor of neuroradiology at Korea University in Seoul, said in a release.