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Smartphone 'Addiction' May Affect Adolescent Development

SAN FRANCISCO — The greater the overuse of smartphones, the greater the risk for severe psychopathologies in adolescents, new research suggests.

The study of nearly 200 adolescents in Korea showed that those who were very high users of smartphones had significantly more problematic behaviors, including somatic symptoms, attentional deficits, and aggression, than did those who were low users.

In addition, the investigators note that the effects of smartphone overuse were similar to those of Internet overuse. Internet use gaming disorder has been included in Section 3 of the just-released fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the section of the manual reserved for conditions considered worthy of further research.

"Regardless of addictive patterns, our results showed that the more addicted that youth were, the more severe their psychopathologies were," study investigator Jonghun Lee, MD, PhD, professor of psychiatry at the Catholic University of Daegu School of Medicine in South Korea, told reporters attending a press briefing here at the the American Psychiatric Association's (APA's) 2013 Annual Meeting.

"The number of adolescents addicted to smartphone use will increase because the popularization of smartphones is an inevitable social trend. And the younger they are, the more vulnerable they are," said Dr. Lee.

Therefore, he said, clinicians should try to screen for smartphone addiction, as well as for Internet or computer addiction, in their adolescent patients.

However, "there is no standardized scale for defining this, so we need to develop it. It's important to identify youth who are at risk to prevent their addiction," Dr. Lee told Medscape Medical News.

Press conference moderator Jeffrey Borenstein, MD, chair of the Council on Communications for the APA, added that "this raises an important opportunity" for clinicians to help their patients.

"The majority of people who have psychiatric illnesses — depression, for example — don't get treatment. I think a part of the puzzle is educating the public, but it's also improved screening," said Dr. Borenstein.

Dramatic Increase in Cell Phone Use

According to a report released by the Pew Research Center last March, 37% of teens in the United States had smartphones in 2012 — up significantly from 23% in 2011. In addition, 95% of all teens use the Internet.

Dr. Lee reported that smartphone use in children and adolescents between the ages of 5 and 19 years in Korea increased dramatically from 7.5% in 2009 to 67% in 2012.

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