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Technology Addiction, Gaming, and the Risks

Gaming, social media, and the internet have offered new ways to be close but also provided a multitude of ways to detach and dissociate from others. Let’s examine the benefits and the risks of the digital age, not just in our relationships, but also how to know when we may have a problem with “technology addiction, such as gaming” and how to address issues related to technology use.
Technology Addiction, Gaming, and the Risks
Ryan Drzewiecki, PsyD, LP
Ryan Drzewiecki is an experienced leader and administrator with over fifteen years of experience in behavioral health administration. Dr. Drzewiecki graduated from Northwestern University in 2003 and began his career in special education and group home administration, and was the co-founder of a behavioral health outpatient clinic in Phoenix, Arizona. 

Learn more about Ryan Drzewiecki, PsyD, LP

Scott Webb: Gaming social media and the internet have offered new ways to be close, but also provided the multitude of ways to detach and disassociate from others. Let's examine the benefits and the risks of the digital age, not just in our relationships, but also how to know when we may have a problem with technology addiction, such as gaming and how to address issues related to technology use.

Joining me today to help us with all this is Dr. Ryan Drzewiecki. He's a psychologist and clinical director at Sierra Tucson. This is Let's Talk Mind, Body, Spirit by Sierra Tucson. Sierra Tucson ranked number one best addiction treatment centers, 2021 in Arizona by Newsweek, I'm Scott Webb. Ryan, thanks so much for your time today. You and I were just speaking before we got rolling here and I was thinking, you know, I love my phone. I love my computer, my whole household where a household of devices and so much screen time. And, I wonder, and I'm sure listeners will wonder, Point do we cross the threshold of it becoming an addiction.

So I'm so glad to have your time today and pick your brain and ask you a whole bunch of questions. So as we get rolling here, what is technology addiction? When does using those phones and iPads and computers and all of that? When does that become an addiction?

Dr. Ryan Drzewiecki: Yes, thank you for having me and what a great place to start, because yeah, I think full confession time, I am certainly addicted to my phone as well. So it's a really interesting topic, great place to start talking about this because more than ever, I think we are very, very much attached to our devices, you know, our phones and our MacBooks and, everything else. And now more than ever as well, those devices can connect us to a variety of different, mediums and different ways to get immersed in technology. Your phone can do anything now. You copuld play a game on it. We could, listen to podcasts. We could go a lot of different directions just with this little device in our pocket.

It's hard to draw a line in terms of when is it an addiction and when is it something that's worth say addressing clinically or looking at clinically, but like a lot of addictions, I really start with the question or oftentimes I'll turn it back on a person. If they ask me, Hey, do I have a problem? I'll I don't know. Do you, you tell me, interesting to find out how much time people spend using these different devices and what they're using them for. How much it's detracting from their life. I always like to ask, what would you be doing if you weren't on that phone or on that device or gaming or using that particular piece of technology? Is it causing problems, in their social life or with their family?

Is it dramatically reducing the amount of time that they're interacting with the people that they love? Is it getting in the way of work? Is it keeping them from hitting their goals? Are they spending a whole lot of time chasing that high of technology versus doing other things that they might otherwise be prioritizing. So it's a conversation. It's something to figure out because I think as technology becomes better and more immersive and more able to connect us to such a variety of things, it's really easy to get lost in some of these, devices for a very long.

Scott Webb: I think it's really interesting that you use the word high there, because I've often wondered, you know, is there some sort of high that we get, is there some sort of chemical reaction that our brains get from opening up social media or discovering some new thing on the internet or whatever, it might be gaming as another example. It just begs the question. I think like why in general, should we even be concerned about how much screen time, we have, or just our general, use of technology? Why is that something to be concerned about?

Dr. Ryan Drzewiecki: It can start to distract from some of our other goals and that's certainly an issue. And I love that you ask about the use of the term high. That's another really important factor, I think, which is to what extent is that game or that technology or that device or that television show? To what extent is that kind of necessary for you as a person in terms of your own emotion regulation? Cause I think at the end of the day, that's why it can be addicting. That's why technology can be addicting, cuz it can help us to regulate our emotions and up to a certain point that's okay.

You know, it's fine to go home at the end of the day and watch an episode of Stranger things or two, or maybe even three and unwind, maybe the entire half of the fourth season. I think that can be healthy and it can help us to unwind and it can help us to escape and it can help us to possibly put aside some of the pressures of the day, but I'm always really concerned when it starts to be, you know, the number one tool in somebody's basket. When that seems to be, the only way to unwind.

Somebody is for example, so caught up in gaming that they can't relax unless they're logging into that game or when they're so dependent on binge watching that. Yeah. That it isn't one or two episodes that it turns into five or six or seven in a night. because I think that's when we really start to see it start to function as an addiction, when somebody really utilizes that particular method or those set of methods exclusively to regulate their emotions instead of having a good, healthy array of ways to help when they.

need to feel better or feel worse or relax or feel motivated. It's healthy to be able to rely on family and friends and a lot of different sort of hobbies and leisure activities like technology. But yeah, if you put all your eggs in that basket, and the only way that you can relax at the end of the day is through technology. That's very problematic.

Scott Webb: Ryan, I think you're so right. I think that, a lot of us turn to technology, it's like, oh, I've had a long day. I've had a bad day and it's sort of this reward, if you will. It's like, oh, the new season of Stranger Things is here, I've lost entire weekends binging shows and I'm sure I'm not the only one. So I, totally, hear what you're saying. And I mentioned earlier about gaming. Let's sort of maybe define the term a little bit. What is gaming?

Dr. Ryan Drzewiecki: Well, I think in general, there's a wide variety of different sorts of games, but I think gaming is, turning to any of these different games and really getting immersed in it. I don't think gaming in and of itself a bad thing at all. Heck I was just playing crosswords when I woke up this morning and, and all that, but there's a really wide array of games and that I think really becomes interesting. When you look at how a person is using it, you could be doing something like crosswords and word puzzle, could be doing Candy Crush or something relatively simple like that. Or in terms of video games, you can get into some of the very elaborate and complex systems of, multi-player games where you're either cooperative or competitive.

And a lot of those variables. I find really interesting when I work with clients who are struggling with gaming I really try to look extensively at not just what types of games are you playing, but what's your relationship to the game? What do you utilize the game for, and then what do you do in the game? How do you interact with the environment there? How do you, if it's multiplayer, how do you interact with the other people? Are you, cooperative? Are you competitive? Are you a troll? if not, If it's a single player game, how are you interacting in that environment?

Are you the sort of person who's out there being a perfectionist, I've gotta collect every item in this game and do a request just right. I'm never gonna die in this video game and I'm gonna reset and restart the whole thing if I do. Or are you the sort of person that likes to sort of defy the rules and stretch it? There's games where you can go and break every rule and sort of, completely not follow the premise of the game and still have fun. So all of those variables, I think, are really, really interesting because at the end of the day, a game is a virtual world where you can be somebody who.

Maybe similar to you, maybe, they're very, very dissimilar to you. And so I think it's sort of a projection of the self and it's really interesting to look at what do you choose to do given that you can reinvent yourself in this medium? You can portray yourself, in a variety of different ways. Who do you choose to be and what do you choose to do? And how do you spend your time? Are really fascinating questions to unravel when somebody. Is struggling with compulsive gaming.

Scott Webb: I think that's so interesting. The way you put that, who do you choose to be? I remember seeing a frontline, program called digital nation. A long time ago. It seems really dated now, but it was really the first time that I was aware that people really could be, addicted to gaming., children addicted to gaming, especially in some other countries in South Korea. I just had no idea until I watched that, how problematic it could be. And we talked about chasing the high in the euphoria or sort of reinventing yourself, reimagining yourself. I'm sure there's just a lot of pros and cons. Maybe you could take us through some of them.

Dr. Ryan Drzewiecki: I think on the positive side, you can oftentimes, like we talked about, you can let off some steam, you can sometimes. Things in games that you might not be able to do in real life. You can perhaps, manage some anger, some anxiety, you might be able to get a sense of power or control, or you might play a game where you feel reinforced for being smart or being clever. And those can within reason be very positive things. On the negative side, of course, I think people can get really, really immersed in it. And, I think sometimes starts to edge out real life in terms of the time commitment and in terms of a person's attachment to it.

I think there are a lot of people who would gladly give up every element of their real life and just play the game they could. And that's certainly something that concerns me a lot. And a lot of the compulsive gamers I see, do that. they Will treat the game like a job. And they may play that game for 16 hours a day that the longest break they might get is running to the kitchen to prepare a sandwich. And that's certainly a concerning pattern. It's funny, you mentioned Korea, there's a cultural phenomenon over there, that, is very fascinating. And I think we're seeing that in the states as well, people who.

For whatever reason have the capacity to withdraw entirely and escape, life entirely and live in these video games. So I think at the far extreme of what does problem gaming look like? We're seeing more and more of that people that just live in that game and really have no connection to their family or friends or any of the circumstances of their quote unquote real.

Scott Webb: Yeah. And you see why that would be problematic. You use the expression that living in the game. And I took me back to one of my all time, favorite movies, the original Tron Movie, the second one was okay. But the original Tron Movie, and I remember being a kid and I remember thinking, wow, that would be so cool to live inside a video game, literally live inside the video game and we're not talking literally, at least not yet here in 2022., but you also mentioned trolls. And I wanted to ask you if this gaming can become sort of predatory. So maybe we can talk about maybe sort of the really dark side of gaming.

Dr. Ryan Drzewiecki: It absolutely can be, it allows you to be somebody else. And I think a lot of people are some version of themself in a game, but some people. Really tap into the side of themselves that they can express elsewhere and that's a lot of times when I see people that I'm very concerned about. I always talk about the notion that video games, breed violence, that sort of old, was that Tipper Gore and that sort of line of thought that. That video games can contribute to violence. I don't think that that's necessarily the way that it happens. I think what you see is a lot of people can use video games to express frustrations that they may not be able to elsewhere.

And I think to some degree, and to some extent that can be healthy to go home and play. Call of duty and blow off some steam and compete with some people and have that sense of power can be healthy, but you can see people who maybe take it too far, who are trying to do that, but in trying to express throws through the game, they're ignoring the underlying problem of whatever it is that's making them angry in real life. And ignoring and avoiding that problem just causes it to grow and grow. So I think some people who are angry and turn to games as an outlet may not be successful at alleviating that anger in that way.

And because the game is an escape and because it's avoiding real life, sometimes those problems can grow and grow. And I think that's, gamers can become predatory and games can exacerbate some of those underlying conditions at times. Trolls, like you said, it's another example. I think it's an anonymous platform , for the most part. And an individual could go on there and be, pretty horrid to other people and that usually doesn't help it doesn't solve the underlying problem. It doesn't address what the person is actually upset at. And it can sort of be an echo chamber where some of that anger and hatred and rage can grow and be amplified. And that's certainly a really problematic aspect or feature of some of these social or multiplayer.

Scott Webb: Yeah, I'm so glad we're talking through some of this stuff today. And when most people think about addictions, right? We think about addictions to whatever narcotics or food or things like that. But this is a real problem. And it's great that we have folks like yourself to be able to help people and thinking about the. Issues or patterns and behaviors. Let's talk about, when you work with clients, when you develop treatment plans for them programs for them, how do all these things inform those programs?

Dr. Ryan Drzewiecki: I think that to really inform a good treatment plan, a clinician really has to dive in and understand who that person is within the context of the game and They're utilizing the game for there's not really a great kind of paint by numbers guy that says, if you play call of duty, you're an aggressive person. Think it's really important to dig in, and for a clinician to really understand who the person is within the context of that world. One really interesting question. I like to ask people is I'm getting to know them and getting to understand what function the game serves for them is, what would your character have done in that situation?

If they're talking about a challenging situation or a frustration it's really interesting to kind of figure out How would this person that you're pretending to be have handled it? Because I think that really tells you a lot about what it is that they're getting out of the game. So I really dive in a lot, what game do you play? What role do you play within that specific game? How do you relate to other people within the context of that game? Who are you? What are the traits and qualities of that character? And how do they interact with the environment? How are they the same as you? How are they different than you?

And I think that those sort of questions really start to inform a really good clinical picture of who is this person and why have they gotten so deeply involved in games? What function is it serving? What sort of. Fantasy or wish fulfillment, are they able to play out because of this game? And then in turn, what can we do in their real life to decrease their reliance on the game? If you find somebody who I'm thinking through different clients that I've worked with. So if you find somebody who's just addicted to Candy Crush, it may be that they just really love the feeling of being smart, solving puzzles.

Working through different challenges and coming to a successful conclusion. So how do we build that into their day to day life, to decrease their avoidance on Candy Crush? If you look at somebody who is playing, a lot of my clinical work was back in the day when, World of Warcraft was king. So, if you're looking at somebody who's going daily into something like that or Call of Duty or Fortnite or something competitive. And they're really deriving a sense of satisfaction from being competitive with others. How do we build opportunities for them in their daily life to have some friendly competition and to feel valuable in that particular way?

Or I think a lot of people who play the multiplayer games as well, enjoy feeling appreciated, they enjoy the cooperative aspect of the game. So again, how do we build that into their life to decrease their Alliance on the games? I think even people who get really lost and immersed in these games, I think that they're using it for a reason and they're using it on some level to sort of self-medicate if you will. So just by diving in and understanding that world, we're able to see how do we help you to get that same effect without having to overuse, the game?

Scott Webb: I'm sure you've dealt with and worked with numerous clients. And obviously, you know, this is an area of speciality for you working and dealing with them when it comes to gaming, maybe you have a particular case study, generically anyway, that you can tell us, how you worked with them to sort of solve or help them with their addiction?

Dr. Ryan Drzewiecki: One that comes to mind was a young man who gamed for about 16 hours a day. He was a, full-time literally a full-time gamer he would not really take breaks for anything. He would have food delivered and often leave his front door unlocked so that the delivery person could come right to his desk. And he played World of Warcraft and he was very competitive within that particular, world. So there's options within that world to kind of battle against other players. So he loved to do that. And what we discovered as we worked together was that this was his way really of working out a lot of anger and rage.

We talked earlier about, just asking people, what would your character do here? And when he would talk about some of his real world issues, and I'd say, what would your character do here? He would sort of jokingly say, oh, I just slash him with a sword or whatever. And we started to realize that this is what was going on with the guy was he had all of this sort of. Impotent anger and rage that he could not express in his real life. So playing the game, allowed him to get all of that rage out and act on all of that.

He was very, very good at what he did so he could dominate other people and rub it in their face and be obnoxious about it and be a bit of a troll. And so in working together, we really focused on the source of that rage in his life, which was. To boil it all down, really contentious relationship with his family, very controlling mother and father. And they were very punitive and reactive. So anytime he tried to express himself he would feel hurt. They would lash back out at him or they would lash back and he would feel hurt. And so what we had to really work on to decrease his reliance on the game , was functional communication.

How do you tell your parents that you're upset in a way that they're gonna be able to hear that isn't gonna result in this back and forth? And we started to, work on that a lot. In individual therapy, we got the family to commit to, doing family therapy with a colleague of mine, and the family committed itself to working on better communication and listening to each other and respecting boundaries. And through doing that, this client was able to decrease his reliance on those games. I think my last few sessions with him he'd actually switched games and he was playing wider variety of games.

He was playing some single person games. He was playing some cooperative stuff. So he, he did continue to game, but it seemed less compulsive. He seemed less driven to both game and to be violent and controlling within the context of the game. So I think it was a big step forward for him and he also put some really significant boundaries down for his own use. He committed himself to two or three hours of gaming a day versus 16. He got a job. He was doing daily dinners with his family to have some social interactions. So he made a lot of good steps in the right direction.

So that's just an example of somebody who really got caught up in the game because in his particular case, he had so much rage inside him that he could not otherwise express. So we taught him to be able to do that better. And it helped.

Scott Webb: Well, I have appeciated this so much. I'm sure listeners have as well. Ryan, thank you so much for your time today and you stay well.

Dr. Ryan Drzewiecki: Yes. Thank you so much. I appreciate the opportunity to talk to you.

Scott Webb: For more information, visit or call 800-842-4487. Sierra Tucson, we work with most insurance. And if you found this podcast helpful, please share it on your social channels and be sure to check out the full podcast library for additional topics of interest.

This is Let's Talk Mind, Body, Spirit from Sierra Tucson. I'm Scott Webb. Stay well.