A recent clinical trial conducted in Germany investigated whether a manualized cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) program called PROTECT (Professioneller Umgang mit technischen Medien [Professional Use of Technical Media]) can reduce the severity of symptoms and prevent the onset of gaming disorder and unspecified internet use disorder in at-risk adolescents aged 12 to 18 years.
What is Gaming Disorder and Unspecified Internet Use Disorder?
Gaming Disorder and Unspecified Internet Use Disorder are both behavioral addictions that were introduced as mental disorders in the International Classification of Diseases, 11th Revision. They are characterized by excessive use of video games or the internet which leads to impairment or distress. Symptoms include a loss of control over gaming or internet use, preoccupation with gaming or the internet, withdrawal symptoms when not using, and continuation despite negative consequences.
What was the PROTECT Intervention?
The PROTECT intervention was a theory-driven, manualized CBT-based indicated preventive group intervention that was delivered in four sessions by trained psychologists. It targeted changes in addictive reward processing and pathological cognitive mechanisms.
What were the Study Findings?
The trial involved 422 at-risk adolescents with gaming disorder and unspecified internet use disorder. Participants were randomized to either the PROTECT intervention group or the assessment-only control group. The primary outcome was symptom severity, which was measured by CSAS, a modified German video game dependency scale. The secondary outcomes were comorbid psychopathology and problem behaviors.
The results of the study showed that the PROTECT group had a significantly greater reduction in symptom severity of gaming disorder and unspecified internet use disorder compared to the control group (39.8% vs. 27.7%). The PROTECT intervention also showed a significantly greater decrease in procrastination over 12 months. However, the intervention did not change the incidence rates of gaming disorder or unspecified internet use disorder.
What do the Findings Mean?
The findings of this trial indicate that the PROTECT intervention in high schools is effective in reducing symptoms of gaming disorder and unspecified internet use disorder. The study provides evidence that a manualized CBT program targeting changes in addictive reward processing and pathological cognitive mechanisms can be an effective indicated prevention for at-risk adolescents with gaming disorder and unspecified internet use disorder.
Gaming disorder and unspecified internet use disorder are behavioral addictions that can have negative consequences on the lives of young people. The PROTECT intervention, a manualized CBT-based indicated preventive group intervention, has been shown to be effective in reducing symptoms of these disorders in at-risk adolescents. This study highlights the importance of developing and implementing indicated prevention programs that target behavioral addictions in young people.