Abu Dhabi: Given the high rate of internet penetration in the UAE, residents are at increased risk of developing behavioral addictions to a variety of behaviors, including gaming, shopping, and social media use.

These addictive behaviors are known to increase due to the isolating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and so the National Rehabilitation Center (NRC) is about to launch a new study to get a cross-sectional picture of addictions in patients seeking rehabilitation. help for psychological problems, a top expert announced Thursday at the International Society of Substance Use Professionals (ISSUP) conference in Abu Dhabi.

Behavioral addictions

“Behavioral addictions develop because these actions provide a natural reward to the patient. Above a certain level, however, they can be harmful, prompting patients to seek medical attention. We want to get an idea of ​​the most common types of behavioral addictions in the UAE among Emiratis and expats, especially since we don’t have any data on this at the moment,” said Dr Shamil Wanigaratne, Consultant Clinical Psychologist and Senior Advisor to the Director of the NRC. general. He was speaking at the ISSUP 2022 conference in Abu Dhabi.

“For this study, we will use data provided by clinicians across the UAE. We hope the results will serve as a gateway to further study the prevalence of addictive behaviors in young people, particularly those aged 12 to 18, and then enable the development of evidence-based treatments to help those affected,” said he added.

Growing Concerns

Behavioral addictions, sometimes called impulse control disorders, provide a sense of reward for addicts, similar to the reward experienced from substance use. Diagnostic models do not currently include the criteria necessary to identify behaviors as addictions in a clinical setting, but they have been proposed as a new class of disorder in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM- 5).

“The DSM-5 includes gambling, but we have seen an increase in anecdotal evidence and concern about gambling disorder, particularly in Southeast Asia. We don’t know how prevalent it is in the UAE, but the country has one of the highest internet penetration rates. We need to know, are young people at risk? Because once they become addicted, the brain gets used to the reward system” , said Dr. Wanigaratne.

Without action, the problem will only get worse, the expert added, especially as the younger generation will have better access to smartphones.

Different treatment

“The type of treatment required for behavioral addictions also differs from treatment for substance use disorders, and this study will provide a rough indication of the degree of intervention that may be needed. Once approved by health regulators, we plan to launch the study this year and collect data for about a month.The idea is that people who are struggling with addictive behaviors will first go to primary care physicians, family physicians and clinicians, and it is the magnitude of these relationships that we are trying to capture with this study,” added Dr. Wanigaratne.

Initially, the expert believes that Internet gaming will be one of the most commonly reported addictive behaviors.

Fight against drug addiction

The ISSUP 2022 conference, which kicked off Thursday in Abu Dhabi, also sees more than 1,000 experts discuss the latest approaches to diagnosing and combating drug addiction. The five-day conference is organized by the NRC, in partnership with ISSUP and the United States Department of State: Bureau of Intl Narcotics & Law Enforcement (INL).

Youth stand

The third edition of the Global Forum of Young Leaders in Substance Prevention is also being held concurrently to strengthen cooperation among young leaders who can help raise awareness of the dangers of addiction.

“Today’s youth can access addictive substances from a variety of sources, including through social media. The work we are doing to warn them of the dangers of these substances is therefore very important,” said Khaled Al Baloushi, a member of the Emirates Youth Council who participated in the forum.