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Gaming and Digital Use Disorder

Julie Parise:
When you think of video game or smartphone addiction, you might think about teenagers who are seemingly always scrolling away on their various devices, but there are adults who need help addressing their tech addiction as well. Ryan Hanson, executive director of Caron Renaissance is here today to talk more about digital use disorder. Ryan, thank you so much for being here.

Ryan Hanson:
Glad to be here.

Julie Parise:
So I was surprised to find out that one of the fastest growing patient populations for treatment of digital addiction isn't teens, it's not young adults, it's people 35 and older. Tell me a little bit about that.

Ryan Hanson:
So 35 year olds and in that general age bracket are people who are hitting the middle of their life. And so they're asking some of those existential questions of what comes next. They've finished school, they've moved on. And those midlife questions are tough questions. So digital escapism when I'm not sure if I'm ready to answer those or I'm fearful about what some of those answers might be is an easy way for some people to prolong that.

Julie Parise:
Well, what does the disorder look like in people of that age group?

Ryan Hanson:
So it looks different than kids. What it looks like for this group are online shopping and it looks like escapism through social media. It's utilizing some things that we all take for granted and in smaller doses are completely fine, but they don't show up the same way with a 35 or 45 or 55 year old as they do with a 15 year old. Julie Parise: Now you mentioned social media. Does that play a large role in this use disorder? Ryan Hanson: Absolutely, because it's something that we take for granted in two ways. One, it's readily accessible and we're all generally speaking using it, and we use it as a way to communicate with one another. My kid's birthday party is going to be posted as a Facebook invite. Julie Parise: Sure. Ryan Hanson: Okay? But it's also a way for people in an unhealthy potentiality to compare themselves to others. So people are putting their best face on here's what's going on with my life and with my family. And if somebody is already struggling with, am I happy? They're thinking about why don't I feel as happy as these people seem to look? Julie Parise: That comparison is what's dangerous, you're saying? Ryan Hanson:
Absolutely.

Julie Parise:
So how many hours is someone with this disorder spending on their phone?

Ryan Hanson:
Well, so an average person, if we just take some statistics, an average person right now is spending almost six hours a day on their phones or on some form of digital media. So people who are struggling with this may be doing that same amount or they may be doing more.

Julie Parise:
And that includes that online shopping or that playing video games or social media?

Ryan Hanson:
Absolutely. That can show up through a variety of different platforms. And it's really about what impact is this having on the other areas of their life. It's not simply that they're using it, it's that they're experiencing anxiety, it's that they're experiencing depression, it's that they're withdrawing from other social activities so they're not present for their own life or for their family's lives as a result.

Julie Parise:
So you're touching on my next question, I was going to ask you to outline the warning signs of what this looks like, but it seems like those would be big red flags.

Ryan Hanson:
Absolutely. So if somebody is experiencing some of this as they're experiencing depression and dissatisfaction with their life, as they're starting to withdraw or as they're watching some of their loved ones withdraw, those are incredible warning signs for us to be aware of.

Julie Parise:
But Ryan, we live in such a digital world. How is this treatment... Is it possible?

Ryan Hanson:
Absolutely. And I think it's really important that we talk about the legitimacy of this disorder. The World Health Organization has identified this, other organizations have identified this, so we know it's real. So when families are thinking about, well, they're just on their phone too much, or they just seem distracted. We want them to understand that this is a real disorder and that recovery is possible. But recovery is possible when someone has received a thorough professional, comprehensive assessment and developed a treatment plan that makes sense for them.

Julie Parise:
Is the first step digital detox, so to speak?

Ryan Hanson:
It is actually. So yeah, there are three steps that we look at when we're treating this disorder. The first, once somebody has been properly screened and assessed, then we're looking at implementing a detox from whatever their digital media is. Then some external regulation where they're receiving professional support, and then as they develop some of the tools that they need to have some healthy balance and reintegrate... as you said, we're going to use digital media, we're going to use some of these things, but reintegrating it in a way that's healthy and makes more sense for them.

Julie Parise:
So there's hope then for someone struggling with these issues to really live a balanced life.

Ryan Hanson:
Absolutely. It's completely treatable. It's just important for people to work together and to identify it as early as possible.

Julie Parise:
Excellent. Ryan Hanson, thank you so much for being here.

Ryan Hanson:
Thank you for having me.

Julie Parise:
If you'd like more information on digital use disorder, you can visit caron.org.

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