The second Regis College President’s Lecture Series on Health of the semester focused on a growing trend fueled by an increasingly interconnected and digital society: behavioral addictions.

A panel of experts examined when the use of social media and engaging in gambling become behavioral addictions and the detriments they have on individuals’ health. The event, held on Zoom, is made possible through a partnership with Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, a Point32Health company.

About 50 people attended the discussion on November 10, which was moderated by Karen Miranda, director of graduate counseling programs at Regis. The panel included Heather Gray, director of academic affairs in the division on addiction at Cambridge Health Alliance; Garriy Shteynberg, associate professor of psychology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville; Sarah Domoff, associate professor of psychology at Central Michigan University; Shane Kraus, assistant professor and clinical psychology PhD program director at University of Nevada, Las Vegas; and Victor Ortiz, director of problem gambling services at the Mass. Department of Public Health.

Gray set the stage for addiction and the three C’s of addiction: loss of control, craving, and continued use despite negative consequences. She described the cognitive process of someone who suffers from a behavioral addiction and presented a case study of an adult male who became addicted to substances and gambling. He began therapy for substances but never disclosed his gambling because he couldn’t bear the thought of giving it up. Not until he finally disclosed his gambling to a close friend did he step towards the path to recovery. Gray’s advice to the audience was “when trying to decide the nature of a person’s relationship to the activity, don’t worry about the label of addiction. Try to consider if the relationship is unhealthy.”

Shteynberg addressed the relationship between shared attention and social media. Studies show if a person believes they are sharing an experience with others, or watching the same content on social media at the same time as others, their baseline reaction and persuasion becomes amplified. This leads to prioritization of the same thing in our environments as others and leads to collective action. Shteynberg stated that social media hijacks the capacity for shared attention, in that its goal is not collective action.

Domoff focused on what makes social media use problematic for adolescents and what it means for clinicians in practice. Links between digital media use and adolescent mental health aren’t simply a function of more time spent on social media, but content and when Domoff said. Sleep disruption leads to poorer school functioning, increased depressed mood, and aggressive behaviors and delinquency. Domoff’s tips for preventing social media misuse and promoting healthy digital media use included limit-setting at bedtime, parental modeling of healthy device use during social interactions, enhancing coping skills around negative social media interactions, and seeking offline support from friends and family.

Kraus, whose research often focuses on U.S veterans, discussed the growing gambling industry that is expected to reach a value of nearly $565.4 billion and growing at an annual rate of 5.9 percent through 2022. Up to 90 percent of U.S. adults gamble in their lifetime and gambling disorder prevalence equates to anywhere from two percent to five percent of U.S. adults and 10 percent of U.S. veterans. Gambling disorder in veterans often co-occurs with trauma-related conditions, substance use, and suicidality. A lack of standardized screening for gambling problems among veterans across U.S. federal agencies is concerning and remains a significant gap for ongoing prevention and treatment efforts.

Ortiz concluded the forum with a report on the prevalence of recreational gambling in Massachusetts at 57.4 percent. Gamblers are more likely to be obese, smoke heavily, use alcohol, and use prescription drugs. The Massachusetts Office of Problem Gambling Services takes a community-driven approach that is rooted in the Social Determinants of Health, with a racial equity lens. A problem gaming helpline provides 24/7 bilingual services and screens about 20,000 annual callers for problem gambling.

Since 2007, the Regis President’s Lecture Series on Health has featured insight from industry experts that inform health care professionals, students, and the public about contemporary health and wellness issues. The goal is for audiences to gain the knowledge needed to affect positive change.

Approval to award contacts hours for nurses by the American Nurses Association Massachusetts is sought for each lecture in the series. The American Nurses Association Massachusetts is accredited as an approver of continuing education by the American Nurses Credentialing Center’s COA.