X-ray of a brain hooked to the mobile

In recent years, the use of new technologies has spread strongly in society. How is the brain of a person addicted to the smartphone?

Internet use is practically widespread throughout the population, mainly among the youngest. According to data from the survey of the Ministry of Health ESTUDES 2018, 99.6% of students aged 14 to 18 had used the internet in the last 12 months.

The main problem is that you can easily move from a widespread use of new technologies to their abuse. It has been detected that the compulsive use of new technologies (internet, mobile phone, online games ...) is a growing phenomenon of our time, especially in groups of younger people.

The latest STUDIES surveys show that while almost 3% of the population aged 15 to 64 make compulsive use of the internet, the prevalence of this problem is seven times higher among students aged 14 to 18.

The pathological use of new technologies has transcended in recent years the consideration of impulse control disorder to fit into behavioral or substance-free addictions. It is accepted that it has a common basis with the rest of classic addictive behaviors. This common root makes the prevalence of drug use such as alcohol and cannabis higher among individuals who make compulsive use of the internet.

What happens in the brain?

We have known for some time the brain mechanisms that mediate addiction to substances such as alcohol, cocaine or tobacco. But the emergence of these new substanceless addictions has forced researchers to rethink the mechanisms that could explain this new phenomenon.

In people who have dependence on new technologies, structural and / or functional changes have been observed in brain regions such as the prefrontal, cingular, orbitofrontal cortex and the limbic system. These altered areas are involved in the processing of phenomena such as reward, motivation or impulse control.

Similar alterations also appear in people with other types of addictions associated with classic drugs of abuse such as cocaine or amphetamines. The risk of occurrence of these disorders is higher among adolescents because the brain regions involved have not finished maturing at these ages and are more vulnerable.

These structural deficits also lead to a worse functioning of these brain regions. Increases impulsivity, decreases control of behavior and increases the difficulty in making the right decisions. All these phenomena contribute to generate a greater risk of developing a dependence on new technologies.

Characteristics of the most vulnerable people

It has also been described in subjects who abuse new technologies the existence of neurochemical and genetic alterations that could contribute to a greater vulnerability of these people to become dependent on these technologies. Factors such as the existence of altered emotional states, low self-esteem, a lack of identity or a shy or insecure personality can also be risk factors to be taken into account to assess the danger of developing a dependence on new technologies.

As a consequence of this dependence, anxious symptoms, irritability, emotional imbalance and problems in social interaction may appear. Addicts to new technologies routinely neglect their daily routines to stay connected for longer, or subtract hours from nighttime sleep, reversing the circadian rhythm. The quantity and quality of your sleep are worse than in the general population. This decreases academic or work performance associated with lack of concentration.

Staying connected to the network more than 3 or 4 hours a day facilitates the isolation of reality, disinterest in other issues, behavioral disorders, as well as sedentary lifestyle and obesity. It can also lead to physical changes such as dry eyes, hearing loss, neck and back pain or inflammation and even osteoarthritis of the base of the thumb. It is not enough to treat these conditions directly if we do not modify the habits that have caused them. If we do not, they will appear again.

It is important to know both the mechanisms that mediate dependence on new technologies, and the risk factors for their appearance. The objective is to be able to apply efficient prevention policies focused on the most vulnerable population groups.

An adequate education based on truthful information and scientific evidence can be key in reducing the risk of generalization of the abuse of new technologies.