They are not addicted to drugs but live 'high' on TikTok, Instagram, Twitch and risk losing their sense of reality: at least 100,000 Italian teenagers between the ages of 11 and 17 make a compulsive and uncontrolled use of social networks and streaming platforms, almost just as many shut themselves up for months in their room replacing the real with the virtual unreal.
Added to these are around 500,000 young people, especially boys, at risk of video game addiction: thus, while in Italy the average time spent on the internet is around 6 hours, various forms of addiction to technology are rampant among young people, thanks malaise of a post-Covid generation in which emotional isolation and the break with the social world have undermined mental health.
Close your smartphone for 'Disconnect Day', 24 hours to say 'no' to web addiction
The data comes from a research promoted by the Department of Anti-Drug Policies of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers and by the National Center for Addiction and Doping of the Istituto Superiore di Sanità, conducted by the IRCCS Stella Maris and the AUSL of Bologna. A study discussed by the experts gathered for the joint conference Sinpf (Italian Society of Neuropsychopharmacology) and Sinpia (Italian Society of Child and Adolescent Neuropsychiatry) entitled: "Clinical psychopharmacology in developmental age: efficacy, safety and treatment implications in successive ages of life", in Cagliari.
According to data collected on over 8,700 students aged between 11 and 17, almost 12% of adolescents, especially boys, are at risk of video game addiction and 2.5% make compulsive and uncontrolled use of social media, while the '1.8% shut themselves away in their room for months, living only on computers and smartphones. Today there are both prevention activities, cognitive and behavioral therapies, and pharmacological treatments capable of helping young and very young patients.
Technological addictions, now there's the app to become a 'digital parent'
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Anxiety and depression
"Kids today are more often victims of anxiety and depression, less integrated into the social fabric and at the same time exposed to radically different technological stimuli compared to their peers just twenty years ago - he adds Claudius Mencacci, Sinpf Co-President and emeritus director of Neuroscience at the Fatebenefratelli-Sacco Hospital in Milan - . Pandemic, wars, environmental and economic crises are amplifying a discomfort that was already present: the progressive reduction of socialization, the decrease in emotional relationships and experiences typical of the growth path are all phenomena in continuous growth in recent years, as well as the growing pressure for performance".
Among the themes also the uncertainty of life for which young people do not seem prepared "Kids today are afraid, disoriented and find on the web, on social networks, in video games - he continues Matthew Balestrieri, Sinfp co-president and professor of psychiatry at the University of Udine - a means to alleviate suffering, fear, uncertainty, ending up becoming dependent on them: focus on prevention, increasing attention to the mental health of the very young in the family and at school, it is therefore essential. It is necessary to observe them, at home and in the classroom, to grasp the signs of discomfort, learning to discriminate the signs that are part of the physiological path of adolescence from the indicators of a psychological disorder or a behavioral addiction such as that from video games, the internet or social networks".
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Too much time online
The problem is the time spent on technology. "The frequency of problematic use of the internet, video games, social networks and platforms is high and increasing - explains one of the authors of the study, Stefano Berloffa of the UOC of Psychiatry and Psychopharmacology of the Developmental Age, IRCCS Stella Maris Foundation in Pisa -. Video game addiction, for example, is recognizable by various signs: use in times of stress, withdrawal symptoms, habit of lying about use, loss of control and other interests.It is often associated with anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, autism spectrum disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: in countries where the IEG (Internet Gaming Disorder) phenomenon is even more widespread, recommendations have been drawn up for the appropriate use of the internet and School prevention programs have also been implemented.In Asia, for example, where the phenomenon is particularly worrying, measures have been envisaged such as a 'curfew' for video games from 10pm to 8am, or specialized clinics to learn how to live without the internet. "
The web as a drug
"These addictions are no different from addictions to drugs of abuse: the same brain areas and the same neurotransmitters, dopamine and serotonin, are involved - he specifies Marco Pistis, of the Division of Neuroscience and Clinical Pharmacology - Unit of Clinical Pharmacology of the University of Cagliari - . Once the problem has been diagnosed, it is essential to help young people regain control of their lives through suitable treatments. Today we intervene above all with family and cognitive-behavioral therapy, there are certainly also safe and effective pharmacological therapies, but it would be useful to focus above all on prevention".
Second Sarah Caruccichild neuropsychiatrist at the Child and Adolescent Neuropsychiatry Clinic of the ASL of Cagliari, "the pharmacological intervention, chosen on the basis of the specific symptoms and characteristics of the patient, is often fundamental".
"Antidepressants for example - concludes the expert - can help, if anxiety and depression are comorbid or affect the need for the internet, social media or video games; in some cases mood stabilizers can be useful, for reduce impulsivity which can favor compulsive behavior. Treatment with drugs must, however, be carefully personalized and used under the supervision of a specialist doctor, and must always be accompanied by a multimodal approach, as with all addictions and especially in adolescents".