The growing epidemic of attention deficit disorders in young adults is a serious cause for concern
he ills of the information age have begun affecting the lives of young adults. An increasing number of 20-somethings and teens are experiencing a collective narrowing of attention span, resulting from the unregulated, excessive gadget and social media use.
In addition to that, young adults are presenting with addiction-like signs and symptoms, such as intense urges to consume, severe anxiety upon withdrawal, a general lack of motivation and more. All of these have adverse effects on their academic and emotional well-being, says child psychologist Dr Nabeeha Shakeel.
The problem is overstimulation and dopamine excess, she says. With the ‘happy hormone’ available at just one swipe, young minds are being programmed to experience pleasure without any toil and trouble.
In this sense, novelty, easy access and instant gratification work in unison to grant social media and fast-paced technology their addictive superpowers. Overconsumption of these tools gradually takes away a young mind’s ability to engage in difficult tasks or menial ones for long periods because newer, simpler and more entertaining outlets are always available.
When asked if she felt a difference in her ability to focus, 19-year-old school-going Abeeha claimed, “I cannot, for the life of me, concentrate on my studies any longer. It makes me anxious, but I am still glued to my phone.”
In Abeeha’s case, like many others, the risk of eventually developing Attention Deficit Hyper-Activity Disorder (ADHD) is significant, says Dr Shakeel.
The ADHD is defined as a behavioural condition that makes focusing on everyday tasks challenging. With 7-8 hours of average screen time and the overstimulation that accompanies it, constant embattlement with anxiety becomes the norm for the body. The heightened anxiety increases people’s chances of landing on the ADHD spectrum, as is shown in a study conducted in Lebanon in The Prim Care Companion CNS Disorders 2022.
During the time spent on these devices, adolescents also miss out on opportunities to socialise with their peers. Dr Nabeeha Shakeel claims that an overwhelming majority of her patients have begun viewing isolation as an escape from the hustle and bustle of normal life. Without productive interactions, she emphasises, emotional maturation cannot occur.
Young adults are presenting with addiction-like signs and symptoms, such as intense urges to consume, severe anxiety upon withdrawal, a general lack of motivation and more. All of these have adverse effects on their academic and emotional well-being, says child psychologist Dr Nabeeha Shakeel.
Unlike the West, communal bonding has been part and parcel of Pakistani culture. However, with the rise of social media, the only friendships younger audiences sustain are with blue-light emitting screens. It is almost ironic how the age of excess and overindulgence continues to deprive future generations of essential, life-affirming experiences and skills.
Another recent and perilous manifestation of unbridled social media consumption that is slowly gaining momentum in the medical world is the development of the fear of missing out (FOMO).
Natalie Christine Dattilo, PhD, founder of the Priority Wellness Group, defines FOMO as the perception of missing out on fundamental experiences. It consequently gives birth to anxiety and compulsive behaviours. Though it is not a diagnosable condition so far, a few of FOMO’s immediate symptoms include mental exhaustion, overscheduling (trying to be everywhere all at once) and difficulties with sleep and concentration.
When asked if there was something holding her back from abandoning social networking for some time, Abeeha replied, “I might miss out on fun things with my friends online.” Dr Shakeel calls this crippling desire to be seen, included and heard online ‘social hunger’ and believes that it perpetuates the negative ideal of superficial and momentary interactions over quality connections.
It is often said that success breeds success and the growth of information technology and social media should be looked at as an achievement and a tool for accelerating learning for all age groups in all possible domains, but it is high time that the cycle of overconsumption is broken.
Dr Nabeeha Shakeel recommends only two hours of daily gadget use for young adults who have fallen prey to this addiction and for those looking to prevent. While she warns caretakers of ‘disorienting and painful withdrawals’ in the rehabilitation process, she still stresses the need for early action.
If the problem isn’t recognised and resolved now, it will continue to disrupt young people’s lives in the most insidious ways, she says.
The writer is a fourth-year student at the Lahore School of Economics with a major in English literature and a minor in media