Is tech addiction the new gateway drug?
For years programs like D.A.R.E. have been set up to help prevent children from using alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana as these are often seen at “gateway drugs.” The thinking is if an adolescent starts smoking they become more likely to try marijuana and then more likely to start other drugs and head down the slippery slope of addiction.
What’s “Addiction” Anyway?
The American Society of Addiction Medicine states, “Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations.” Certainly, some people struggle with this definition of addiction in regards to technology and gaming. In fact, recently the World Health Organization recognized gaming addiction as a mental health issue.
Which then brings the question, if you can be addicted to alcohol and it is often seen as a gateway drug to other substance abuse, then can an addiction to your smartphone create addiction-like behaviors that then put you more at risk to abuse illegal substances?
More Research is Needed
Researchers at Yale University published a study in 2011 that found some health risks linked to problematic gaming. About 4.9% of those surveyed in the Yale study reported that they had difficulty cutting back on their gaming, and this group of 4.9% was also linked to drug use, cigarette smoking, fights, and depression.
Often times when people with addictions go into rehab and start addressing their behaviors they sometimes “swap” their addictions. For example, a drug user may be able to remain abstinent from their drug of choice but may take up smoking, or start binge eating. This is referred to by mental health professionals as “addiction transfer” and often occurs in abstinence treatment.
Ultimately, it’s too early to tell if teens growing up today that are poorly self-regulated and internet “addicted” will be more prone to substance abuse. Programs like Summerland Camps, which focus on behavior modification, can help alleviate some of the common reasons why addiction transfer occurs.
We do this by working with families on changing behaviors and habits while finding a healthy balance. You can read about our methodology here and self-regulation here. It becomes easier to identify addictive patterns and behaviors and nip them in the bud, helping ensure that gaming and tech addiction don’t create patterns and habits that make it easier for substance addiction to thrive.