‘20/20' Embeds With Families For A Year-Long Report On The Effects Of "Digital Addiction"

Destructive dependence, extreme change of personality, isolation and physical signs during withdrawal are all common symptoms of substance abuse, but now some doctors and other experts say they are seeing some of these indicators in people who have severe attachment to their digital devices - calling it an addiction. For more than a year, “20/20” embedded with families across the country who say they have been plagued by this debilitating dependency, and documented through interviews and video diaries how, they say, excessive use of electronics is destroying their daily lives. Anchor Elizabeth Vargas reports on people who are at the depths of their struggle, following them and their families as they pursue solutions and work towards recovery. “20/20” airs on FRIDAY, MAY 19 (10:00-11:00 p.m. ET), on the ABC Television Network.

Josh is a 14-year-old gamer from Michigan. His parents say his obsessive use of video games led him to stop attending school. At one point his mother says she had to lock their Wi-Fi router in her car to stop him from playing. Out of options and worried about Josh’s well-being, his parents sent him to a remote camp with kids who have similar issues for two months. “20/20” follows Josh and his family as he leaves for camp, documenting their emotional reunion in the wilderness, what his parents say is his remarkable transformation, and his return home to face a world filled with screens. 


15-year-old Brooke used her phone constantly—texting, using Snapchat, posting on Instagram. Her parents tried to monitor and limit her online activity, but when they took her phone away, they say Brooke’s behavior became uncontrollable. Brooke’s destructive social media use hit a low point when police alerted her parents that Brooke was involved in a dangerous online relationship. After her father found a suicide note written by Brooke, her parents sent Brooke to a rehabilitation program."20/20" spent time with Brooke and her family, at rehab, and is along for a challenging home visit where she is allowed some limited access to her phone.   


Maria from Ohio created video diaries for “20/20” on the impact her husband’s excessive gaming habit had on her and their four young children. She says her husband is a video game addict. Each night Chris would return home from work and, she says, spend his free time playing video games, not helping with their children and household responsibilities, missing family dinners and skipping holiday gatherings. Vargas visits their home to talk to both Chris and Maria about their situation, and cameras capture Chris’ struggle during an intervention where he agrees to give up games for at least 90 days.


The “20/20” program reports on the debate over whether excessive use of technology should be called an addiction. Vargas also speaks to a prominent psychiatrist who believes compulsive screen usage might be seen in brain scans, and he believes that the brain may have the ability to repair itself by changing the amount of technology usage.


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