Smartphone and Internet Addiction Causes Chemical Imbalance in the Brain

Category: Health


Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

  1. neurotransmitter / ˌnʊər oʊˈtræns mɪt ər / (n) – a chemical substance that sends brain signals

    Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that controls a person’s emotional responses.

  2. drowsiness / ˈdraʊ zi nɪs / (n) – the state of feeling sleepy

    One of the medicine’s side effects is drowsiness, which is why I was feeling sleepy.

  3. intensify / ɪnˈtɛn səˌfaɪ / (v) – to significantly increase or strengthen

    Her anxiety intensified after she read more news about the accident online.

  4. radical / ˈræd ɪ kəl / (adj) – producing extreme changes

    The rise of technology has led to a number of radical innovations such as self-driving cars.

  5. double-edged sword / ˈdʌb əl ɛdʒd sɔrd / (idiom) – something that has a good side and a bad side

    Technology is a double-edged sword; it makes our lives easier, but it can also harm our mental health.


Read the text below.

Excessive smartphone and Internet use can harm brain chemistry, according to research.

Researchers at the Korea University in Seoul examined the effects of smartphone and Internet addiction on 38 male and female teenage participants using standardized questionnaires. As the items mainly focused on how their smartphone and Internet addiction disrupts their daily lives, the score reflected the severity of their addiction.

Half were diagnosed with smartphone and Internet addiction, while the other half had healthy usage levels. Findings further showed a chemical imbalance in the brains of the addicted participants. Such imbalance was likened to that observed in individuals suffering from anxiety and depression.

Twelve of these addicted teenagers went through nine weeks of cognitive behavioral therapy.

The researchers used magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) before and after the therapy to measure the chemical composition of the participants’ brains. They examined two neurotransmitters: gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and glutamate-glutamine (Glx). GABA slows down brain signals, which can lead to anxiety and drowsiness, while Glx causes neurons to be electrically excited. Results showed that GABA to Glx ratio intensified in the addicted participants, with GABA levels higher than usual.

However, the participants’ GABA to Glx ratio normalized after the nine-week therapy.

According to psychology professor Jean Twenge [tweng-gee], smartphones and the Internet have brought radical lifestyle changes among young people. For instance, it has resulted in teenagers going out less compared to previous generations. However, it remains a double-edged sword. On one hand, teenagers would rather socialize online, which results in isolation. On the other hand, because these teenagers do not go out much, there has been a decline in teenage pregnancy and underage drinking.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.

Discussion A

• What do you think is the best age for teenagers to have their own smartphones? Explain.
• How can teenagers control their smartphone use? How can their parents help?

Discussion B

• In your country, do you think that socializing in person is becoming less and less common? Why?
• Do you believe that socializing in person is always better than socializing online? Why or why not?