Eating to fill one’s inner emptiness, alcohol to decrease one’s worries, and nicotine to increase one’s mood, energy drinks and pills to fasten one’s success, computer games to feel relaxed, pills to improve one’s sleep. We try to solve our problems as fast as possible, often with the overuse of pills or drugs. An addiction develops slowly, from a habitual to a dangerous use, which can but not necessarily has to turn into an addiction. Not every habit is an addiction, just if it effects your daily life in a negative way.
If factors, like genes, social environment, personality, vulnerability, traumatic experience and attachment interact in a deconstructive way without being treated they can turn maladaptive behaviors into an addiction.
Each addiction has an effect on the brain because the brain changes congruently with how it is used:
(Since smartphone addiction can access internet or gaming addiction this article covers all three addictive behaviors and their negative effects on the brain.)
The reward system in our brain gets more sensitive when playing video games on a smartphone for example. This leads to an increased release of dopamine, which makes us feel good, hence people keep playing to feel positive emotions. This alteration might be caused due to an increase of the volume and activity of the ventral striatum. Researchers discuss if this alteration happens due to gaming or if video game addict were born with an altered ventral striatum and therefore are more vulnerable to become an addict.
People who are addicted to their smartphone produce higher levels of GABA, a neurotransmitter in the cortex that inhibits neurons, which will lead to poor attention and lack of control and therefore are easier distracted.
Several studies show an association between internet addiction disorder (IAD) and structural abnormalities (decreased volume) of the grey matter in the anterior cingulate cortex. This part of the brain is enabling top-down attention control. Therefore, being addicted to the internet will decrease someone’s ability to pay attention.
Abnormalities within the integrity performance of the white matter are found throughout internet addicted people.
Decreased executive functioning, especially in terms of inhibition, is found throughout individuals suffering from an internet gaming disorder compared to healthy people.
A recent study suggested that long-term internet addiction would alter brain structures, which could consequently increase the chance of a chronic dysfunction.
To sum up, alterations in the brain due to smart phone, internet or video game addiction decreases the performance of the prefrontal cortex which is responsible for inhibition, attention and self-regulation and increases the mesolimbic system, which effects your emotions and makes you feel good when using these technologies due to increased activity of specific neurotransmitters in your brain.