New Study Suggests That Smartphone Overuse is Similar to Other Types of Substance Abuse

It shouldn’t be that much of a surprise when technology corporations design smartphones to be as addictive as possible.

Smartphones are an integral part of most people’s lives, allowing us to stay connected and in-the-know at all times. The downside of that convenience is that many of us are also addicted to the constant pings, chimes, vibrations and other alerts from our devices, unable to ignore new emails, texts and images. In a new study published in NeuroRegulation, San Francisco State University Professor of Health Education Erik Peper and Associate Professor of Health Education Richard Harvey argue that overuse of smart phones is just like any other type of substance abuse.

“The behavioral addiction of smartphone use begins forming neurological connections in the brain in ways similar to how opioid addiction is experienced by people taking Oxycontin for pain relief — gradually,” Peper explained.

On top of that, addiction to social media technology may actually have a negative effect on social connection. In a survey of 135 San Francisco State students, Peper and Harvey found that students who used their phones the most reported higher levels of feeling isolated, lonely, depressed and anxious. They believe the loneliness is partly a consequence of replacing face-to-face interaction with a form of communication where body language and other signals cannot be interpreted. They also found that those same students almost constantly multitasked while studying, watching other media, eating or attending class. This constant activity allows little time for bodies and minds to relax and regenerate, says Peper, and also results in “semi-tasking,” where people do two or more tasks at the same time — but half as well as they would have if focused on one task at a time.

Peper and Harvey note that digital addiction is not our fault but a result of the tech industry’s desire to increase corporate profits. “More eyeballs, more clicks, more money,” said Peper. Push notifications, vibrations and other alerts on our phones and computers make us feel compelled to look at them by triggering the same neural pathways in our brains that once alerted us to imminent danger, such as an attack by a tiger or other large predator. “But now we are hijacked by those same mechanisms that once protected us and allowed us to survive — for the most trivial pieces of information,” he said.

But just as we can train ourselves to eat less sugar, for example, we can take charge and train ourselves to be less addicted to our phones and computers. The first step is recognizing that tech companies are manipulating our innate biological responses to danger. Peper suggests turning off push notifications, only responding to email and social media at specific times and scheduling periods with no interruptions to focus on important tasks.

Analysis Finds 60% People Who Try a Cigarette Become Daily Smokers

The addictive power of cigarettes shouldn’t be underestimated. The damage to health that cigarettes do shouldn’t be estimated either, and that’s probably why wise cigarette smokers simply tell others to not start smoking to begin with.

At least 61 per cent of people who try their first cigarette become, at least temporarily, daily smokers, suggests an analysis of survey data by Queen Mary University of London.

The findings, from over 215,000 survey respondents and published in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research, provides strong support for prioritising efforts to reduce cigarette experimentation among adolescents.

Lead researcher Professor Peter Hajek from Queen Mary said: “This is the first time that the remarkable hold that cigarettes can establish after a single experience has been documented from such a large set of data.

“In the development of any addictive behaviour, the move from experimentation to daily practice is an important landmark, as it implies that a recreational activity is turning into a compulsive need. We’ve found that the conversion rate from ‘first time smoker’ to ‘daily smoker’ is surprisingly high, which helps confirm the importance of preventing cigarette experimentation in the first place.

“The UK is seeing a dramatic reduction in smoking at the moment and this tallies with recent findings that only 19 per cent of 11-15 year olds have ever tried a cigarette, so the good news is that we are on the right track.”

The researchers searched the Global Health Data Exchange for relevant surveys that included questions about ever trying a cigarette and ever smoking daily. Datasets from eight surveys were found from the UK, USA, Australia and New Zealand, and the survey methods were found to be on par with best practice. Data were analysed to calculate the conversion rate from ever trying a cigarette to ever smoking daily.

The team calculated that 60.3 per cent of respondents had said they had ever tried a cigarette, and among those, an estimated 68.9 per cent said they had progressed to daily smoking.

The different surveys used different methodologies and yielded different results, so the estimated 68.9 per cent ‘conversion rate’ from experimentation to daily smoking has a margin of error (between 60.9 and 76.9 per cent).

Given the high conversion rate found in all existing surveys, the researchers suggest that at least some of the reduction in smoking prevalence observed over the past 20 years is likely due to reduced experimentation with cigarettes among adolescents.

Professor Peter Hajek added: “Concerns were expressed that e-cigarettes could be as addictive as conventional cigarettes, but this has not been the case. It is striking that very few non-smokers who try e-cigarettes become daily vapers, while such a large proportion on non-smokers who try conventional cigarettes become daily smokers. The presence of nicotine is clearly not the whole story.”

Scientists Find Where Nicotine Addiction Can be Blocked in the Mouse Brain, Providing an Advance to Blocking It in the Human Brain

Humans and mice have some similar enough brain structures that make this a relevant advance in giving people increased control to stop the scourge of nicotine addiction.

Brain researchers have pinpointed a small group of brain cells that are especially responsive to nicotine, and which might be the main culprits in driving addiction to the substance.

By tweaking these neurons in mouse brains, scientists were able to curb nicotine addiction in the animals. Not only have their results solved an important piece of the nicotine addiction puzzle, but they could also lead us towards new treatments for the problem.

Nicotine is one of humanity’s most popular drugs – it’s considered to be the third most addictive substance we know. And because it holds such a sway on our brains, it’s extremely difficult to quit.

According to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking is a leading cause of preventable death, with about 1,300 people in the US dying every day due to cigarette smoking or smoke exposure.

Which is why a team led by researchers from The Rockefeller University has been digging around brain chemistry to identify potential new drug targets that could help curb the addiction.

They focussed on two small brain regions located in the midbrain – the evolutionary older part of vertebrate brains, and one of the many brain features we share with mice.

These two interconnected regions – the medial habenula and the interpeduncular nucleus (IPN) – are known to be involved in drug dependence, and also contain the receptors that nicotine binds to once it enters the bloodstream and crosses into the brain.

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Even though so far we only have seen these results in mice, we do share similar brain structures with these animals, so the researchers are confident we can learn something about human addiction here.

“What all of this tells us is that the habenula-IPN pathway is important for smoking in humans,” says Ibanez-Tallon.

Now that the researchers know where to look, they’ll be further investigating how to manipulate the Amigo1 neurons in order to discover new ways to target nicotine addiction.

The study has been published in PNAS.

Norway to Decriminalize Drugs

Automatically treating addictions as crimes (instead of as health problems) is stupidity in public policy. Helping people receive treatment for drug problems is far superior to locking them up in a cage.

Norway is to become the first Scandinavian country to decriminalise drugs as it focuses on treatment rather than punishment.

The majority of the Norwegian parliament, the Storting, backed the historic shift which was supported by the Conservatives (Hoyre), Liberals (Venstre), the Labor Party (Ap) and the Socialist Left (SV).

They directed the national government to reform its policies on drugs.

Sveinung Stensland, deputy chairman of the Storting Health Committee, told Norwegian publication VG: “It is important to emphasise that we do not legalise cannabis and other drugs, but we decriminalise.

“The change will take some time, but that means a changed vision: those who have a substance abuse problem should be treated as ill, and not as criminals with classical sanctions such as fines and imprisonment.”

The Norwegian Health Committee is planning a trip to Portugal in February, which decriminalised personal possession of drugs in 2001. The country made the move following a heroin epidemic and the highest drug-related Aids deaths in the European Union (EU).

It now has the second lowest drug-related deaths in the EU.

Norway could join other countries such as Portugal, the Netherlands, Uruguay, and certain US states including California and Colorado, which have liberalised drug laws.

Smartphone Addiction Creates Brain Imbalance, Study Suggests

My advice is to control the phone instead of letting it control you. As with many other parts of life, for some that will be much easier said than done.

Researchers have found an imbalance in the brain chemistry of young people addicted to smartphones and the internet, according to a study presented today at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).

According to a recent Pew Research Center study, 46 percent of Americans say they could not live without their smartphones. While this sentiment is clearly hyperbole, more and more people are becoming increasingly dependent on smartphones and other portable electronic devices for news, information, games, and even the occasional phone call.

Along with a growing concern that young people, in particular, may be spending too much time staring into their phones instead of interacting with others, come questions as to the immediate effects on the brain and the possible long-term consequences of such habits.

Hyung Suk Seo, M.D., professor of neuroradiology at Korea University in Seoul, South Korea, and colleagues used magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) to gain unique insight into the brains of smartphone- and internet-addicted teenagers. MRS is a type of MRI that measures the brain’s chemical composition.

The study involved 19 young people (mean age 15.5, 9 males) diagnosed with internet or smartphone addiction and 19 gender- and age-matched healthy controls. Twelve of the addicted youth received nine weeks of cognitive behavioral therapy, modified from a cognitive therapy program for gaming addiction, as part of the study.

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Researchers used standardized internet and smartphone addiction tests to measure the severity of internet addiction. Questions focused on the extent to which internet and smartphone use affects daily routines, social life, productivity, sleeping patterns and feelings.

The researchers performed MRS exams on the addicted youth prior to and following behavioral therapy and a single MRS study on the control patients to measure levels of gamma aminobutyric acid, or GABA, a neurotransmitter in the brain that inhibits or slows down brain signals, and glutamate-glutamine (Glx), a neurotransmitter that causes neurons to become more electrically excited. Previous studies have found GABA to be involved in vision and motor control and the regulation of various brain functions, including anxiety.

The results of the MRS revealed that, compared to the healthy controls, the ratio of GABA to Glx was significantly increased in the anterior cingulate cortex of smartphone- and internet-addicted youth prior to therapy.

Dr. Seo said the ratios of GABA to creatine and GABA to glutamate were significantly correlated to clinical scales of internet and smartphone addictions, depression and anxiety.

Having too much GABA can result in a number of side effects, including drowsiness and anxiety.

More study is needed to understand the clinical implications of the findings, but Dr. Seo believes that increased GABA in the anterior cingulate gyrus in internet and smartphone addiction may be related to the functional loss of integration and regulation of processing in the cognitive and emotional neural network.

The good news is GABA to Glx ratios in the addicted youth significantly decreased or normalized after cognitive behavioral therapy.

“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,” Dr. Seo said.