SCREEN TIME, A DIGITAL DRUG
We now know that smartphones, iPads, and Xboxes are a form of digital drug. Recent brain imaging research is showing that they affect the brain’s frontal cortex – which controls executive functioning, including impulse control – in exactly the same way that cocaine does. Technology is so hyper-arousing that it raises dopamine levels — the feel-good neurotransmitter most involved in the addiction dynamic – as much as sex.
Excessive internet video game play (EIGP) has emerged as a leading cause of behavioral and developmental problems in adolescents. Recent research has implicated the role of striatal dopaminergic system in the behavioral maladaptations associated with EIGP. This study investigates the reward-dependence characteristics in EIGP adolescents as it potentially relates to genetic polymorphisms of the dopaminergic system and temperament. Seventy-nine male EIGP adolescents and 75 age- and gender-matched healthy comparison adolescents were recruited. Associations were tested with respect to the reward-dependence (RD) scale in Cloninger’s Temperament and Character Inventory and the frequencies of 3 dopamine polymorphisms: Taq1A1 allele of the dopamine D2 receptor (DRD2 Taq1A1) and Val158Met in the Catecholamine-O-Methyltransferase(COMT) genes. The Taq1A1 and low activity (COMTL) alleles were significantly more prevalent in the EIGP group relative to the comparison group. The present EIGP group had significantly higher RD scores than controls. Within the EIGP group, the presence of the Taq1A1 allele correlated with higher RD scores. Our findings suggest that EIGP subjects have higher reward dependency and an increased prevalence of the DRD2 Taq1A1 and COMTL alleles. In particular, the DRD2 Taq1A1 allele seems to be associated with reward dependence in EIGP adolescents.