New technologies have opened another melon in addictions . They are not smoked, drunk or snorted, like traditional drugs, but they have a similar addictive power and can be dangerous to health.
The preliminary results of the latest Survey on Alcohol and other Drugs in Spain (Ages) , carried out by the Ministry of Health to some 18,000 people between 15 and 64 years before the pandemic, reveal that compulsive use of the internet and online gamblingwith money involved they are on the rise.
More than a million people – 25% more than in the 2017 survey – make compulsive use of the Internet, that is, they have a maladaptive relationship with this tool, with loss of control over its use and even withdrawal syndrome . Likewise, 7.6% of the population gamble with money online. Between online and face-to-face, some 670,000 people have problematic gambling behaviors.
“There is a slow growth in compulsive internet use. Although it is much more frequent in young people, ”the Government delegate for the National Plan on Drugs, Joan Ramon Villalbí, summarized this Monday. If the prevalence is 3.7% of people between 15 and 64 years old, this percentage exceeds 11% when it comes to young people between 15 and 24 years old.
Along with the abuse of the internet, a phenomenon that was born under this network also rises: online gambling . In fact, gambling with money is growing, both in the face-to-face mode (the prevalence in the last year is 63.6%) and through the internet (6.7%).
But it is the latter system that is of greatest concern to the authorities, especially regarding access by minors. ” In terms of turnover, it has eaten in person. It affects young people a lot, even minors. There could be 3% of minors who play for money and we do not like this.
This needs regulation ”, warned the epidemiologist. In addition, it is more addictive: 15% of those who gamble online (compared to 4% of those who do so in person) have problematic gambling dynamics, Villalbí said this Monday. That is, they practice it more frequently, spend more money and combine this practice with the use of other drugs, such as alcohol or tobacco.
“The main reason for consultation is still addiction to slot machines. But online gambling and compulsive shopping have risen significantly. In our unit, they are already 28% and 12%, respectively, of the reasons for consultation ”, explains Cristina Martínez, doctor in Psychology from the Pathological Gambling Unit of the Mataró Hospital.
The center usually attends about 85 first visits each year , although in 2020, due to the pandemic and the difficulties of referral from primary care due to the collapse of health services, it has received about 60 new patients.
Martínez points out two different profiles, but on the rise: people with problems with traditional gambling are older, have less education and have more disadvantaged economic situations; On the other hand, the online gambling addict is between 20 and 25 years old, has higher education and is active at a professional level.
“For a while, they lose control of the game, they need to play more money to get the initial excitement and the gambling behavior persists even if they lose their job or run out of money,” says Martinez. The abuse of other toxins is common and recovery, warns the psychologist, is very slow. “The risk of relapse is high,” he says.
Martínez agrees with Villalbí on the risk for minors, who have easy access to online gambling : “ We are concerned because some of the cases that come to us began in the game before reaching the age of majority. The younger the age, the more complex the problem is ”, he warns.
Health will publish the results of the survey during the pandemic in the coming weeks.
Regarding traditional drugs, the Ages survey concludes a stabilization in the consumption of alcohol and tobacco: 32.2% smoke daily and 63% of the population have drunk alcohol in the last month.
However, the survey reflects a rebound in new behaviors with these substances, such as ‘binge drinking’ (binge drinking, in bottles, for example): 15.4% have practiced it in the last month. Likewise, the use of electronic cigarettes rose from 8.8% in 2017 to 10.5% in 2019 for people who have tried it at some time in their life.
Cannabis use is also growing: 37.5% have taken it at some time in their life and 3% of men (0.9% of women) make problematic use. Cocaine (11% have tried it at some point in their lives) and opioid painkillers also go up slightly.