Communication technologies, Internet, mobile phones and video games are now high on the agenda when it comes to addiction and mental illness
By Alejandro Bassas Reina – Pedro failed almost all of his classes that year. His family could not understand why, since he spent hours in his room “studying” until the early morning. In fact, Pedro did not open a single book all year. Instead, he devoted his attention to an online video game that absorbed him completely. Realizing he had a problem, he took it upon himself to ask his family for help. Before doing so, he wanted to research online if what he was experiencing was addiction, but what he found did not clear things up for him.
So Pedro immersed himself in the debate around the damaging use of new technology, a debate in which expert theories intersect with, sometimes very sensationalist, media headlines. To date, there is no consensus around what constitutes problematic use of the Internet, mobile phones or video games. The WHO has decided, not without controversy, to include “gaming disorder” in the Eleventh Revision of its International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11).
According to the WHO, a gaming disorder is present when there is a pattern of “persistent or recurrent” gaming behaviour linked to three negative conditions: impaired control over gaming, including over the initiation, frequency, intensity, duration, termination and context in which someone plays; increasing priority given to gaming over other interests and daily activities; continuation or escalation of this behaviour despite awareness of the negative consequences.
This pattern of behaviour could cause significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational or occupational functioning. However, critics believe that the scientific basis for this argument is too weak to state this conclusively. In fact, the other reference manual on mental disorders, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), defines the issue less clearly, since it considers “Internet gaming disorder” (which includes video games and other online games) to be among the disorders requiring further study before being included in a future edition.
The Internet in the new “Addictions Strategy”
The Spanish Government’s National Drugs Strategy team set out its new National Strategy on Addictions (2017-2024) a few months ago, and it did not shy away from the debate or the growing interest in so-called “behavioural” or “non-substance addictions” (of which, currently, compulsive gambling is the only officially recognised one). Therefore, for the first time, consideration is being given to the misuse of the Internet and mobile phones, especially among young people. As the strategy itself states:
“We live in increasingly dynamic and changing societies where it is essential to adopt new technologies. There is a growing concern over the increased “pathological” use of the Internet, digital media and social networks, as well as the role of new technologies as gateways to and facilitators of other addictive behaviours, especially betting and online gaming among teenagers, very mediated by aggressive advertising”.
The journal INFONOVA
Dianova Spain’s journal on addiction, INFONOVA, has already dedicated two issues to this matter. The latest issue, number 34, coincides with the publication of the new plan from the National Drugs Strategy team and features contributions from the likes of Elisardo Becoña, Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Santiago de Compostela, who, in his article “Behavioural addictions: separating the wheat from the chaff”, asserts that “today we only have clinical consensus on those addictions caused by various substances, by pathological gambling, to a certain extent by video games, and nothing else”.
Becoña warns of the risks of treating everything in daily life as a mental disorder and calls for us to continue to deepen our understanding of what is and what is not a real addiction: “These days, we cannot call it Internet addiction. That is different than stating it is harmless to all users or that it does not cause problems for some. However, this does not mean that it is an addiction, even though people should seek professional help from a clinical psychologist if it negatively impacts their lives. That is to say, having a problem is not the same as having a clinical disorder”, he states.