Empantallados: the "substance-free addiction" that begins at age 14 | Society

Empantallados: the "substance-free addiction" that begins at age 14 | Society

They call it addiction without substance. Adrián, a 14-year-old from Cádiz, caught him in the summer. Almost without noticing, he spent the days locked in his room, barely eating and stopped showering. Without communicating with his family, his only activity was to play the console, the Play Station. "I had my schedule changed, I stayed up all night and at noon I rested for a few hours. When I got hungry I went to the kitchen to get more Red Bull energy drink, he made me a couple of sandwiches and caught a bag of potatoes, "says the young man. The day her parents began to worry, they took the machine, they hid her in the car and the boy grabbed her in a sick way, says Isabel, her mother. They had to go to a police station to end the conflict. "Adrián was no longer Adrián, he had always been affectionate and now he behaved violently".

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In Spain, 21% of young people between 10 and 25 years suffer from behavioral disorders due to technology, according to a survey of 4,000 kids to be included in the new national plan on drugs of the Ministry of Health. Screen addiction is not considered a disease and was left out of the DSM5, the classification of mental disorders prepared by the American Psychiatric Association, which updated the list in 2013. Gambling addiction is the only addictive behavior recognized in this document, which associates addiction mainly with substances: alcohol, tobacco, stimulants, marijuana and opiates .

Empanadallados: the "addiction without substance" that begins at age 14

"There is no protocol to act in these cases, the diagnosis of new diseases always lags behind social changes. You have to know how to differentiate between excessive consumption and addiction, which is when the person loses control and suffers because although he would like to stop, he can not, "explains Celso Arango, vice president of the Spanish Society of Psychiatry. In your hospital, the Gregorio Marañón of Madrid, addiction to video games is already the second most treated behind the cannabis, in the case of adolescents.

Loss of control, as Adrian describes what he lived for two months. His family decided to seek help when, at the beginning of the course, third of ESO, his grades plummeted and he suspended six subjects. "He did not reason, he pushed us and he punched against the wall," his mother describes. With family therapy sessions in the Project Man Association, dedicated to the prevention and treatment of drug addictions that in 2013 launched a program for young people addicted to communication technologies, have managed to stop the problem. Adrián has sold the console and with that money he has bought a mountain bike, a hobby that he had abandoned. The key to their recovery have been the calls resolutions, punishments or rewards for their behavior.

"Addiction does not have to do with the number of hours, but with the consequences"

Pedro Pedrero, Project Man

"When the treatment starts, the emotional void of the kids is very big. His life has been filled with the game, with the recognition of other people to his virtual exploits. Unlike what happens to them in real life, there they feel competent and the failures they may have are not penalized. What can you offer them to fill them in a similar way? "Says Pedro Pedrero, a psychologist at Proyecto Hombre, who has already served 200 young people, most of them 16-year-olds. The girls are 20% of the total. "Addiction does not have to do with the number of hours, but with the consequences," he adds.

Nearly 90% of young people between 14 and 16 have two to five personal digital devices and 86% recognize a "very usual" use of mobile phones, according to the study ICT and its influence on the socialization of adolescents, published last January by the Foundation for Help against Drug Addiction.

Empanadallados: the "addiction without substance" that begins at age 14

Behind the hitch are hidden, in most cases, personal deficiencies or self-esteem problems. "If they take refuge in technology, it's something. This is what we call the iceberg phenomenon: addiction is what we see, but below there can be family conflicts, school bullying, mourning for the death of a loved one or a change of country, "says José Moreno, director of the Center for Technological Addictions of the Community of Madrid, a pioneering public service in Spain exclusively for teenagers that opened last April and that has given psychological treatment to 124 kids from 12 to 16 years old. 38% of the cases come from the mental health departments of hospitals in Madrid. In these first eleven months, 1,583 people have participated in its prevention programs.

Part of the problem is born in the family. "With three years they put the tablet to eat or to reassure them of a tantrum. That means teaching the child to regulate their emotions through a device, "says Moreno. Communication is key. "We work the link. It is necessary for parents to accompany the child in therapy, the responsibility does not fall on a single member, everyone must be willing to change, "says Moreno. The warning signs are usually three: meals at night, bad sleep habits and responsibilities. Recognizing that the adolescent has a problem is a complex process. "They are afraid and claiming that their child is an addict is a stigma for families."

What cause the screens at the brain level? "Unlike addiction to substances, this does not leave a psychological mark for life, it can be overcome more easily," says Domingo Malmierca, co-author of three guides published by the Community of Madrid to learn to live with screens and member of the Learning to Look Foundation, which works against abuses in the digital environment. They get excited because they have a challenge before them: win a battle or surprise in a WhatsApp conversation. "Every success supposes a jet of dopamine, it is an immediate satisfaction", explains the expert.

The brain of adolescents is "immature" and very vulnerable to stimuli that can become addictive, says Hilario Blasco, a psychiatrist Madrid hospital Puerta de Hierro. "Teenagers have fewer brakes, the frontal lobe the part of the brain responsible for regulating the impulses It has not finished forming. Not everyone gets hooked, those who have good social skills or practice more sports are more resistant, "he says.

The family must set an example. "Children do what they see, not what their parents order them, so one solution is to choose technology-free areas within the house and schedules. Introduce all the appliances in a closet at night and prevent them from getting into our bed, "warns Stephen Balkam, founder of Family Online Safety Institute, an organization in U.S that investigates responsible practices in the digital world. "We still do not know the long-term consequences, we should not demonize technology, but apply common sense."

Isolation is another signal. Daniel, 13, has been in class three times since the course started. He does not want to leave the house or stay with friends. Your place is the sofa, in front of which you have a television connected to your Nintendo. "I have nothing to hide, my son has a high-risk addiction to the screens," says his father, Ángel Gutiérrez, after the weekly therapy session he, his wife and son attend in Madrid. He is afraid that the Children's Office intervene and take custody for repeated school absences.

"Children do what they see, not what their parents order, so one solution is to choose technology-free zones within the house and schedules"

Stephen Balkam, psychologist

The boy, with long loose hair and a black sweatshirt, asks his father not to give many details. "He fails social skills and now we are reviewing his self-esteem, it seems that it is quite low," says the father. Now they have started dosing the hours of play and Daniel is getting to know kids of his age in his same situation in group therapy. "Technology is the worst thing that has happened to us, worse than if an extraterrestrial dropped," says the mother, who prefers not to give her name.

"Many of the families that come to therapy are very dysfunctional; They do not usually express their emotions or know how to say no with respect. Judgments and shouting are a form of violence and education is the basis. We teach them another way of relating, "says psychologist José Moreno. The family is the reference model. The disorder is not born alone.

The WHO does recognize the "disorder" by videogames

Empanadallados: the "addiction without substance" that begins at age 14

The World Health Organization (WHO) included last June, for the first time, the videogame disorder as a mental illness in its International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), which was not updated since 1992. The disorder refers to the use of video games, with or without Internet connection. For WHO, it is considered a disorder if it assumes a "significant deterioration" in the areas of personal, family, social, or educational functioning.

At the beginning of 2017, when it became known that the WHO valued including digital games as the origin of mental disorders, a group of researchers, among them from the University of Oxford, They criticized the idea. In your opinion, it was not clear that these problems should be attributed to a new disorder. In an article, they expressed the lack of consensus in the scientific community about the symptoms to be taken into account. The inclusion of this disorder could cause panic or the "premature application of the diagnosis in the medical community and the treatment of abundant false positive cases, especially in children and adolescents", lamented. The debate they put on the table questioned whether it was worth devoting public resources to that issue and raised the stigma that could cause in the community of "healthy" players.


This report is the fourth installment of Grow Connected, a series of articles that explore the lives of children and adolescents in a digital world. The codes have changed, the kids learn, play and interact through networks and screens, surrounded by algorithms and big data, natives in environments in which their elders move with bewilderment. Grow Connected reflects on the challenges they face and the possibilities that are open for these generations. What do technology do, where are they and how do they use it? They are between 3 and 18 years old: they will be our guides.[[go back up]


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