Cycle of Media Dependency
There has been much debate as to whether excess video gaming or other forms of excess media consumption can truly be an addiction. Some have argued that it is not and the problems observed are simply a symptom of other mental health conditions. Interestingly, in a 2004 study (1), 52% of clinicians surveyed that had treated problematic use within the past 12 months believed it was or could be a distinct disorder compared to only 30% of those that had not treated the condition (1). Recent research (2) suggests a bidirectional relationship between excess internet use and mood disorders. It was found that depressive symptoms predicted an increase in online internet use and negative outcomes a year later and negative outcomes predicted an increase in depression one year later.
We have developed a model to explains this relationship and identifies important treatment targets. This model suggests that regardless of whether an individual enters the cycle at point 1 with pre-existing depression, anxiety or other negative mood states or point 2 with excess gaming/media consumption, they will eventually experience negative life outcomes relative to their excess media consumption. The consumption of media to excess over time will result in negative real-life outcomes, lowered self-esteem and increasingly higher negative mood states when not consuming media. Thus media consumption becomes the primary way of coping and an individual loses interest and motivation for just about everything else. This traps an individual in a vicious cycle that is difficult to escape.
There are three distinct treatment target areas - negative mood states, excess media consumption and negative real life outcomes. Our holistic treatment program targets all three elements. Psychotherapy, diet, physical activity and, if necessary medication, can be useful in dealing with negative mood states, mood disorders and other mental health conditions. Media consumption must be reduced to safe levels (not eliminated) using methods which are well tolerated by the client and family, consistent, reliable and cannot be worked around. In order to improve/reverse the negative life outcomes, parents and other caregivers are coached to encourage enrichment activities. With real-world rewards emerging over time, these can eventually overtake and reshape the client's future.
1 . Woog, K. M. (2004). A survey of mental health professionals clinical exposure to problematic computer use. Retrieved from www.pcmoderator.com/research.pdf
2. Gámez-Guadix Manuel. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking. November 2014, 17(11): 714-719. https://doi.org/10.1089/cyber.2014.0226