This month, the Rotary Club of Manhasset, in conjunction with the Manhasset Community Coalition Against Substance Abuse (CASA), sponsored the program Devices or Vices: Connections between Digital Obsessions and Substance Addiction.
The goal of the program was to educate parents and caregivers on how to recognize the early signs of addiction in preteens and teens. The parallels between a mind that is plagued with addiction, and one that is not, was examined from a bio-psychosocial perspective.
Anthony Rizzuto, LMSW, regional director of community relations and education at Seafield Center, a comprehensive alcohol and drug treatment center located in eastern Suffolk County, welcomed those in attendance in the Manhasset Library Community Room. After explaining the evening’s agenda, he introduced Lisa Ganz, LCSW, clinical director at Long Island Council of Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (LICADD). Ganz spoke about how our world has “sped up,” with all types of information and entertainment available at our fingertips 24/7. She explored the reasons that teens overdo it with Internet gaming: to escape, to detach, to disassociate and to search for relief. With Internet games, a teen with an addictive personality may compulsively interact with the games, to the possible exclusion of almost everything else. When Ganz works with a teen who spends hours gaming on a phone or tablet, and who lets his schoolwork and family obligations slide, she will ask, “Tell me, is that working for you?”
The second speaker of the evening was Stephen Dewey, PhD, who researches the effects of addictions on brain function and structure at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, located on the Manhasset campus of Northwell Health. By using sophisticated imaging techniques, Dewey has been able to study what goes on in the brains of people with addictions. Some people have hyperactive dopamine sensors in their brains. Dopamine, a brain chemical that affects a person’s emotions and sensations of pleasure, plays a major role in reward-motivated behavior. Dewey has discovered that many different addictive drugs increase dopamine activity. His more recent research has discovered that teens consumed by their Internet games may also have hyperactive dopamine sensors, thus making their brains function similarly to those of drug addicts. This link, and the possibility that an addiction to Internet games can lead to a drug addiction, has led to the identification of Internet Gaming Disorder, a condition that has been deemed as warranting more clinical research.
With research on Internet Gaming Disorder continuing, both Ganz and Dewey agree that best approach to avoiding the situation in your preteens and teens is being preventative. Be proactive. Restrict device access for young children and make sure that there are plenty of non-digital activities for your children to enjoy with their family and friends. Also, set an example for your children by making a point of putting aside your own device. Model the behavior that you want from them.