Experts explain that Internet addition can result damage similar to that caused by cocaine and alcohol

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The 2nd Digital Adolescents Event, organised by the coordinators of the Master’s Degree in Cybercrime at UIC Barcelona, invited experts to analyse the neurological, emotional and behavioural effects of ICTs.

This Monday, during the 2nd Digital Adolescents Event, experts in psychology explained that Internet addition can result in brain damage similar to that caused by cocaine and alcohol. Irene Montiel, holder of a PhD in Psychology, cited a study published by the Chinese Academy of Science to point out to the 300 attendees that the correlation is today more valid than ever.

As part of the event organised by the coordinators of the University Master’s Degree in Cybercrime at UIC Barcelona, Montiel analysed the effects of ICTs at a neurological, cognitive and psychosocial level. In this regard, the expert stressed that Internet addiction could lead to emotional, executive attention, decision-making and impulse control deficits. More specifically, the overuse of social media in children age 10 to 12 causes atrophy in the perception or decoding of emotional signals, which interferes with the development of emotional intelligence.

The criminologist, who specialises in the online victimisation of youth, also noted that receiving a “like” on a social media post releases a shot of dopamine. “Unlike drugs, ICT abuse is not only socially accepted, it doesn’t give you a hangover. This makes it very difficult to recognise the problem and work with the victims”, she stressed. 

On the other hand, she also mentioned that many adolescents experience envy, frustration and sadness on comparing their profile with those of other people. Montiel referred to several other scientific studies to explain that, with adolescents, becoming disconnected, losing phone coverage or running out of battery can produce anxiety. The psychologist went on to say that an “excess of selfies hinders interpersonal relationships” and that having to be always “ready to smile” causes a feeling of displacement or stress. These constant comparisons generate considerable frustration, as recognised in a 2013 study led by David Houghton at the University of Birmingham.

This situation is resulting in other health problems, such as anxiety, sleep and self-esteem issues, difficulties concentrating or hypervigilance, as well as more specific syndromes such as Nomofobia –the fear of being out of mobile contact–, FOMO Syndrome –the fear of being disconnected; of missing out–, “poser syndrome”, pathological exhibitionism, the “narcissism epidemic” or hikikomori –acute social withdrawal.

Learning with all five senses

Also present at the 2nd Digital Adolescents Event was magistrate for the National Court of Spain and expert in cybercrime and compliance, Eloy Velasco. According to this expert, in most cases of cyberbulling, the victims feel unable to escape the situation and even believe that they deserve it. “We don’t judge the victim, we judge the offender”, he emphasised.

Researcher and promoter of educational issues, Catherine L’Ecuyer, was another of the guest speakers at the 2nd Digital Adolescents Event. Other event participants included Pedro García, coach and advisor specialising in addiction and conduct disorders in adolescents; Francisco Pérez, secretary-general of the INCIBE; Anna Plans, president of the Association of Audiovisual Media Consumers of Catalonia (TAC); lawyer José María Marqués; and José Ramón Agustina, director of the University Master’s Degree in Cybercime and criminal lawyer at Molins & Silva.