1. Smartphones have become adult pacifiers. Discuss and critically evaluate using the relevant Internet addiction literature.
According to severe studies conducted in the UK and the US, 81% of smartphone users admitted that they do not hesitate to pick up a smartphone that did not ring when they stand in line at a supermarket, stop at a traffic light, get stuck in a traffic jam, in public transport, dine, etc. Many have confirmed that they use a mobile phone during religious ceremonies business meetings while in the theatre or the classroom. When they shower, many smartphone users take their smartphone to the bathroom; 70% of Americans say they cannot fall asleep if there is no smartphone nearby (Handayani et al., 2021). Many users rarely move more than 1.5 meters from their smartphones. With the help of gadgets, modern parents not only cope with the child’s whims, using them as a means of comfort, distraction and development of children, but also free up time for themselves – for work and personal life, without thinking about the consequences of such behaviour. For many adults, the smartphone and the Internet are starting to turn from indispensable assistants into a kind of Pandora’s box: colourful, extremely attractive, dynamic, devoid of the usual problems and troubles; virtual reality is increasingly replacing a much more complex, mundane, full of issues that need to be solved, life. Other invariable attributes of our modernity also contribute to this: the continuously accelerating pace of life, informational aggression, which requires a highly developed ability to adapt and self-organize, etc. (Melumad & Pham, 2020).
Turning to the discussion of the issue of the formation of dependence on the Internet, it should be noted that most experts consider the time spent on the Internet as the main and often the only criterion for diagnosing this form of non-chemical dependence. However, today the Internet is so densely used in work, study and everyday life that many adults spend many hours daily on the Internet, while they do not show signs of addiction. In this regard, the amount of time spent on the Web today cannot be considered the primary, much less the only criterion for diagnosing Internet addiction, apart from other obligatory criteria for non-chemical addictions. According to the definition, dependence (addiction) begins where there is a substitution of the satisfaction of fundamental needs with a new overvalued market for access to the virtual space, which allows you to avoid problems in an illusory-virtual way, realize your fantasies, compensate for the lack of communication, etc. (Kwon et al., 2016). Researchers identify the following principal reasons contributing to the formation of dependence on the Internet: the desire for novelty (search for new sensations, vivid emotions, new identifications); the desire to relax, relieve emotional stress, anxiety; the desire to get away from complex reality, to switch, to forget; the desire to find friends, get emotional support, recognition, respect, love, which is especially important for lonely or insecure people who avoid communicating in reality (Diefenbach & Borrmann, 2019).
Turning to the pathogenesis of addiction to smartphones and the Internet, it should be noted that at first glance, addiction to gadgets seems incomparable with drug addiction or smoking. However, studies show that all these addictions are based on the exact mechanism associated with the synthesis of the pleasure neurotransmitter – dopamine. When a dose of dopamine is released, a feeling of euphoria and pleasure is caused, making a person perform the same action repeatedly. When a smartphone beeps or vibrates, a small amount of dopamine is released in the user’s brain, associated with the anticipation of pleasure. At this point, motivation and curiosity appear: it is interesting to know who is calling or who sent us a message and what is written in it. Uncertainty, interest, and the instinct of novelty make a person repeatedly check the phone every time. Thus, the response is stimulated by the so-called “variable reward” – the satisfaction of curiosity and dopamine release (Kuss, 2017).
Research has shown that 67% of people regularly check their phones even when there is no alert. Satisfaction of curiosity leads to the subsequent production of dopamine, which ultimately contributes to the gradual development of addiction to the smartphone. Dopamine makes a person look for sources of pleasure. It is this mechanism that underlies the formation of any addiction. The production of dopamine is also stimulated by unpredictability, surprise, small fractional portions of information, and the possibility of receiving rewards and bonuses. All this is present in large numbers in social networks. The influence of dopamine is so strong that the craving for “likes”, “reposts”, and “retweets” in many people resembles addiction to alcohol and cigarettes. The same applies to addiction to self-presentation and narcissism (craving for endless “selfies”, “check-ins”, posting any of your fleeting thoughts and plans on the Internet, etc.) (Gupta et al., 2018). According to studies, the powerful release of dopamine during computer games is comparable to dopamine release when using drugs. According to several studies, today, at least 40% of online gamers are addicted. In the United States, there is already a society for online game addicts, similar to the communities of anonymous alcoholics or drug addicts (Roberts et al., 2015).
2. Is there something different about adolescent brains that makes them more susceptible to the effects of alcohol or recreational drug use? Discuss with reference to theory and evidence.
Adolescents’ tendency to take drugs and alcohol is a protective compensatory reaction to overcoming chronic stress, avoiding reality, and stopping anxiety. Alcohol and drug addiction is a systemic disease that leads to disorganization of systemic mechanisms of regulation of functions, affecting the central nervous system and internal organs, the endocrine and immune systems, metabolic disorders, and adaptation disorder (Hamidullah et al., 2020). The central nervous system is most profoundly affected; signs of organic damage are detected early. There is a lag in the development of the regulation of functions and, above all, the integrative systems of the brain that control the interaction of the emotional-volitional sphere with the associative structures of the brain. It is known that the leading symptom in the development of alcoholism or drug addiction in adolescents is the formation of a pathological craving or dependence. First, there is a mental, then a physical attraction to alcohol drugs. However, the cognitive component does not yet affect personal attitudes at the beginning of the disease and is entirely under control. But it is the mental component (positive motivation caused by alcohol or drugs) that is the key to the formation in the CNS at a subconscious level (altered state) of a new conditioned reflex temporal connection. Thus, the mental component under certain conditions can lead to psychological dependence. In the future, a syndrome of altered reactivity develops, and a pathological addiction arises – withdrawal syndrome (physical, mental dependence). The attraction is already persistent (obsessive) or irresistible (compulsive). It is deeply merged with the attitudes of the personality, and mental discomfort has pathological mechanisms, manifesting itself as emotional tension dysphoria (Winters & Arria, 2011).
The problem of the malignancy of the course of alcoholism and drug addiction in adolescents is widely discussed. It is especially true for children with perinatal pathology and minimal cerebral dysfunction, defined as mental retardation with a psychopathic syndrome, more often called attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). No less important factors that cause uncontrolled (pathological) conduct disorder in adolescents are genetically determined psychopathy and accentuated personalities and the consequences of traumatic brain injury (TBI). From a physiological point of view, a teenager’s addiction is an excessive fixation of a person on a particular activity, a focus on its narrow area (Aarts et al., 2020). In medical practice, it is the formation of an addiction to alcohol, drugs, and computer (gambling and gambling) extreme activities. Purposeful behaviour, in this case, is a manifestation of defence mechanisms in overcoming an intrapsychic conflict. This form of stress avoidance is otherwise called passive coping behaviour, which is non-constructive since it does not fundamentally resolve the personal dispute. An addictive personality is characterized by nonconformity, the inadequacy of behaviour and judgments due to a hidden inferiority complex, a thirst for thrills, unusual new experiences, and a tendency to take risks. Several factors should be considered as predictors of addictive behaviour. These are: 1) unfavourable heredity; 2) an inferior psychobiological basis of character and personality (psychopathy and accentuation of character); 3) a history of various manifestations of residual organic lesions of the central nervous system (ADHD, enuresis, speech disorders), neuroviral infections, TBI (Squeglia et al., 2009).
In adolescents aged 15-17 years, the susceptibility of addictive behaviour was studied, taking into account the lateral organization of the brain. It has been established that mental tension increases in adolescents with addictive behaviour. Addictive behaviour and a high level of anxiety prevailed in individuals with right hemisphere dominance. It is known that a shift in the balance of activation towards the right hemisphere causes depression. The authors suggest that in adolescent alcoholics and drug addicts, the emotional background is initially reduced due to dysfunction of the right hemisphere. Psychostimulants are a kind of attempt to “improve” this negative background towards the left hemisphere. But the mechanism of reciprocity does not work here, and the left hemisphere remains disorganized. Left-handers have a different principle of the functional organization of the brain than right-handers (a lower degree of interhemispheric specialization, a more excellent bilateral representation of functions, particularly speech). Their intelligence is within the normal range. More often, there were violations of non-verbal intelligence. High emotional sensitivity with weakening inhibitory processes, increased vulnerability, anxiety, self-doubt, and impulsive behaviour were found (Squeglia & Gray, 2016).
Guerri & Pascual (2019) propose the concept of “breakdown” of neurotransmitter systems in the emotional structures of the brain. According to this concept, excitation is transmitted through the brainstem’s reticular formation, which receives information from all analyzer systems (except for the olfactory one). Then the data is transferred to non-specific structures of the thalamus and the basal parts of the cerebral cortex. Norepinephrine is synthesized in the locus coeruleus of the brainstem associated with forebrain systems, including the cerebellum. A decrease in noradrenergic activity disrupts the activity in these structures, which are involved in programming the descending influences of the motor cortex (Guerri & Pascual, 2019). In the pathogenesis of alcohol susceptibility in adolescents, an important role is assigned to the asymmetric control system of neurotransmitter systems in the form of dopaminergic transmission of information in the left hemisphere and noradrenergic transmission in the right hemisphere. Due to neurochemical imbalance, a decrease in dopamine in the cortex manifests itself as a cognitive deficit, and an increase in dopamine activity in subcortical structures (caudate nucleus) causes hyperactivity. By the pubertal period, the morphofunctional immaturity of the frontal cortex and subcortical structures is preserved (Bava & Tapert, 2018).
Using the psychological literature, critically evaluate to what extent gaming addiction and internet addiction can be considered genuine addictions.
American psychiatrists I. Goldberg, K. Young, and others were the first to study Internet addiction. They proposed a set of diagnostic criteria to identify Internet addiction and published the first monographs based on their research. It should be noted that initially, I. Goldberg used the concept of “Internet addiction” as a joke, not considering it a true addiction. However, when he created a psychological support group for Internet addicts, hundreds of people turned to him, saying they needed professional help to overcome addiction. With the light hand of I. Goldberg, the term took root and began to be used in scientific circulation (Kumari et al., 2022). The main criteria for diagnosing Internet addiction, the researchers listed above, include unwillingness even for a short time to be distracted from activities on the Internet; feeling unwell, increased irritability and excitability if this has to be done; increase in spending on the provision of the Internet; the desire to underestimate the duration of being in the network; decrease in physical activity, neglect of the quality of food consumed and personal hygiene, caused by the reluctance to spend time on this at the expense of time spent on the Internet (Griffiths, 2014). According to Goldberg, psychological dependence on the Internet manifests itself in a withdrawal syndrome, reminiscent of the one that occurs in smokers or drug addicts, with the difference that it lacks a physiological component. With Internet addiction, a pathological change in needs and motives comes to the fore. The need to be on the Internet becomes the semantic motive; the rest fade into the background (Basu & Dalal, 2016).
Not all experts are inclined to single out Internet addiction and gambling addiction as independent varieties of addictive behaviour. For example, the English psychiatrist R. Lenihan criticizes existing approaches to Internet addiction, focusing on highlighting its negative consequences. He emphasizes that the Internet is only a means one can become addicted to, such as gambling, multiplayer computer games, or pornography. If this happens, one should speak of an established addiction to gambling or pornography and not classify such people as one general category of Internet addicts based only on a mediating mechanism. Lenihan writes that it never occurs to anyone to consider men who drive too fast, those who go along the side of the road searching for prostitutes, or those who move to the store to buy liquor as suffering from a single morbid addiction to the car. However, in the case of Internet addiction, there is a substitution of goals and means: the mediating mechanism is declared to be the cause of addiction. According to Lenihan, the Internet is nothing more than a mechanism for addictions to form. Thus, opponents of the terms “Internet addiction” and “gaming addiction” argue that an individual’s addictions to gambling, social networking, shopping on the Internet or computer games are realized through a computer and the Internet. The computer and the Internet are just vehicles for learning other addictions (Flisher, 2020).
Special attention deserves computer gaming addiction (game addiction, cyber addiction), which has intensified after the advent of online multiplayer games. Gaming computer addiction is understood as a non-chemical addiction, manifested in an obsessive passion for computer games, in which the player identifies himself with a virtual character and acts on his behalf. We can talk about dependence on computer games if, for the game, a person begins to avoid other types of activity: study, work, communication with the social environment. Enthusiasm for the game among addicts borders on fanaticism causes aggression concerning what hinders the game. Gamers evaluate the natural world as uninteresting but necessary and the virtual one as an exciting semblance of reality. As a rule, the addict feels discomfort in real life and strives to get away from existing problems in a virtual environment, the degree of control over which he has much higher. The game is a way of getting away from the issues in real life (Griffiths, 2017).
According to psychologists’ research, 5% of today’s children are addicted to computer games. Addiction peaks between the ages of 12 and 15, with about ten boys per addicted girl. It is probably because the crisis of adolescence is more pronounced in boys. Adolescents who have difficulty adapting to the natural socio-cultural environment often have low self-esteem, feel much more confident in the virtual space, feel their importance, and influence what is happening (André et al., 2020). Dependence on computer games is more often formed among urban residents in a high-tech environment; rural residents, living following the rhythms of nature, are less prone to this type of addiction. In addition, the technical possibilities for participation in mass multiplayer online games in the countryside are not always available. If the question of attributing Internet addiction and its varieties to diseases remains open today, then its negative impact on the human psyche is beyond doubt. Dependence leads to a distorted perception of one’s personality and the surrounding reality and contributes to social maladaptation. Thus, there are currently conflicting views on the problem of Internet addiction or gambling addiction. Some researchers consider it an independent type of addiction and seek inclusion in medical diagnostic guidelines. Others, on the contrary, believe that the Internet and computer games are nothing more than a means of forming addictions of a different kind (Gómez Galán et al., 2021).
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