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Treating “Screen Addiction” in Young Adults

Est. reading time: 4 mins
Posted Under: Interviews

Clinically Reviewed by: Amanda Fialk, PhD, LCSW, LICSW

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The American Psychiatric Association’s inclusion of “gaming disorder” in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5-TR) is the latest development in a growing amount of research on the effects of online use and “screen addiction”.  At The Dorm, we are determined to provide our clients with the best support and continually evolve to address changing clinical needs. It is clear that in this digital age, navigating screen addiction is becoming one of the most pressing issues today.

Below, we chat with The Dorm team about how our “Digital Age Group” came to be. (For a deeper dive into our holistic approach to treatment, check out our latest post on screen addiction treatment for young adults.)

What is the Digital Age Group, exactly?

Our Digital Age Group is a therapeutic group designed to address the ever-growing issue of “screen addiction”, which includes addiction to various technologies such as smartphones, laptops, PCs, dating apps and video game consoles. The group is both a psychoeducational and process group, where the results of harmful overuse, over-reliance and abuse of technology are examined in a safe therapeutic environment.

How is this approached and what treatment modalities are used for “screen addiction”?

Our therapists collaborate with our clients using varying modalities and interventions, including MI, CBT, DBT and REBT as well as mindfulness practices. Group members are challenged and supported as they collaboratively open up and share about their maladaptive use of technology. Over the course of several group sessions, clients develop a better understanding of their own individual level of use, misuse and/or abuse of various technologies, give and receive feedback from their peers and learn best practices for personal smartphone/Internet device usage.

How can you tell if a client is truly ‘addicted’ to their screens, or just operating within our increasingly digital world?

It’s a good question. We’re still learning about how to navigate the full spectrum of what “screen addiction” can and does look like. We try to use every tool at our disposal to assess our young clients and also keep them part of the discussion, which includes client-led presentations and group dialogue. That being said, our process also incorporates evidence-based monitoring and oversight. We use apps to track clients’ daily social media usage in order to help set weekly goals around regulating smartphone usage. We also apply various testing instruments, which can measure a client’s level of virtual addiction and help them accept whether or not their lives have become unmanageable due to their technology use/abuse.

You say there is no “one size fits all” approach to treating “screen addiction”. What do you mean by that?

It simply means that our therapists use specific therapeutic interventions based on the unique needs of the individual.

As an example, some clients who suffer from severe technological abuse (i.e. they are unable to sustain daily acts of living (ADLs) due to their overuse of technology or they experience mood shifts/changes when technology is taken away). These individuals may require a more direct and intense intervention to counteract their level of Internet and smartphone addiction. It’s important to remember that treating “screen addiction” can be akin to treating a substance use disorder – they are very similar compulsions – the ping of a text message, an email alert or a ‘like’ on your Instagram picture can all trigger a dopamine response.

In less severe cases, we may use a practical “harm reduction” model, as it would be nearly impossible to sustain the complete elimination of technology from their everyday lives. Instead, with the proper education and insight, we help our clients create a balance between online and real-world interactions and promote more healthy interpersonal skills.

Why is interaction “offline” important?

Technology breaks down normal relationships, social cues, interactions and structures. The goal is not to overly rely on one tool for expression and interaction with the world. Without balance, the digital world can become the predominant way young adults express themselves and form interpersonal relationships which can cause many long-term issues.

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What problems would those be? And how big a problem is this?

The problem is growing faster than researchers and scholars can label and document. For example, the fact that “Internet Gaming Disorder” is labeled as a “Condition for Further Study” in the DSM-5 means that the American Psychiatric Association has requested additional research into this growing problem. There is much we still expect to learn and discover about the impact of digital exposure and “screen addiction”.

What is clear is that there has been a rapid decrease in real-life social and interpersonal interactions and skill building in many adolescents and young adults that seek treatment and an increase in compulsive and maladaptive behaviors. We have seen a correlation between those adolescents and young adults who are spending more time online with a lack of social skills, anxiety and depression.

The good news is that The Dorm’s treatment model is uniquely designed to help our clients develop a real-life community where they can work on acquiring social skills through practice; skills that may have been lacking due to prolonged cybernetic isolation. In short, we see that true-life community, interaction and experience can be a powerful counterbalance to the digital world and an important one.

What is different about The Dorm’s Digital Age Group over other services on offer for “screen addiction”?

We’re thrilled to see that there are many services out there addressing this important issue. Where we see ourselves as different, is that we don’t approach “gaming addiction” or “social media addiction” or even “screen addiction” as separate challenges but part of a bigger conversation; a conversation about our digital age, and our young adults’ development in it and experience of it. This group is foremost a collaborative process and a dialogue that we believe will only continue to evolve and deepen.

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