Neurochemically, Smartphone Addiction Is Real –
We’ve all seen it: crowds of people walking with their heads bent, thumbs frantically scrolling, eyes glazed. Smartphones and social media take up hours of time in the average person’s day.
Now, scientists have found a connection between smartphone use and neurochemical imbalances in the brain. Explore the possibility of smart device addiction, and whether it could affect you or someone close to you.
The Staggering Statistics on Smartphone Use
A recent Pew Research study found that 77 percent of U.S. adults own a smartphone – up from 35 percent in 2011. More than half of young adults live in households with three or more smartphones.
When surveyed, the majority of respondents said it was “generally OK” to use a cellphone while walking down the street, on public transportation and while waiting in line. Almost half (46 percent) of smartphone owners say they couldn’t live without their phones.
Another powerful wakeup call about how much society relies on and uses smartphones comes from Apple data. According to Apple, the average smartphone user compulsively checks in around 80 times per day. A different report from Kleiner Perkins estimated the number at 150 times per day. In such a strong digital age, is it really so surprising that smart device addiction is making headlines?
For years, scientists and researchers have warned about the possible negative effects of staring at screens for too many hours a day. From the very first video games to the latest virtual reality experiences, every new piece of technology has come with pundits questioning their safety.
Yet, no smart device has sparked the word “addiction” more than the smartphone. Many recent articles state that smartphone and social media addiction isn’t just real, but that it’s commonplace.
Is Smartphone and Social Media Addiction Really a Thing?
According to a pioneer study presented at the 103rd Scientific Assembly, smartphone addiction has a correlation with neurochemical imbalances in the brain. Hyung Suk Seo, professor at Korea University in Seoul, led the study. Researchers used a special type of MRI to measure the brain’s chemical composition, and they conducted a survey to determine how often the test subject uses a smartphone.
The results found that smartphone-addicted individuals had significantly higher levels of:
The ratio of GABA to Glx neurotransmitters was also significantly higher in smartphone-addicted individuals. GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is a neurotransmitter that slows down brain signaling. Glx (glutamate-glutamine) is the neurotransmitter that makes neurons more electrically stimulated.
Professor Seo speculated that increases in GABA related to smartphone and internet addiction “may cause function loss of integration and regulation of processing in the cognitive and emotional neural networks.” Too much GABA can lead to side effects, ranging from insomnia to anxiety, as the brain’s signals reduce in speed.
On a positive note, Seo noted that GABA-to-Glx ratios in smartphone-addicted individuals normalized or improved after cognitive behavioral therapy. It appears, therefore, that reversal is possible.
Possible Ramifications of Smart Device Addiction
Smartphone, social media, internet and gaming addictions could be the new faces of dependency. While Seo’s soon-to-be-published study needs other extensive studies to refute or confirm the correlation between smartphone addiction and neurochemical changes in the brain, it does give food for thought. If smartphone addiction is real and can cause changes in the brain, it means a brand new category of addictive behavior.
You could be one of many people who suffer from smartphone addiction…or perhaps you have a particularly phone-obsessed family member. Signs that you could have a cellphone addiction include:
- You feel uncomfortable without your phone.
- It makes you nervous or irritated not to be able to use your phone.
- The thought of a dead battery scares you.
- You spend a lot of time thinking about social media.
- You use social media and the internet to escape personal problems.
- Cutting down on your smartphone or social media use feels impossible.
- Your smart device use is so great that it’s negatively impacted your job or relationships.
Smartphone addiction can disrupt relationships, lead to job termination, present financial difficulties and harbor many of the same adverse effects as a drug, alcohol or other addiction. Spending too much time on a smart device could be damaging to mental health. This is especially true if it causes sleep disturbances and depression, as studies seem to indicate.
Smartphone Addiction: Do You Believe the Hype?
Smartphone addiction is a developing theory that could have some basis in scientific evidence. The more data that becomes available about smartphone use, brain activity and addictive behaviors, the more the world will know about this alleged problem. If smartphone addiction can affect the brain’s neurotransmitters, is it therefore comparable to drug or alcohol addictions that do the same?
Is there someone in your life who you believe could have this issue?
Or do you believe these “addictions” are unfounded, and simply speculation with little supporting science?