ROME – Representatives from the Vatican are joining forces with scientific experts later this week to address the problem of drugs and a rise in what have been dubbed “new dependencies,” including addictions to sex, the internet and gambling.
Professor Nicolò Pisanu, President of Pontifical Salesian University’s Institute of Psychopedagogical and Social Sciences, and head of the “Progetto Uomo” [Human Project] of the Italian Federation of Therapeutic Communities, said there has recently been a change in the world of science when it comes to drugs, changing from the term “substances” to “dependencies.”
In comments to Crux, Pisanu said the reason for this change is that the type of addictions themselves have changed, and that “with new dependencies such as gambling and the internet, you can’t speak about substances anymore.”
“They are phenomena that bring dependency,” and because of this, there has also been a change in the type of therapeutic treatments offered to addicts.
When it comes to these new dependencies, Pisanu said that while there are many, three will be highlighted at an upcoming Nov. 29-Dec.1 conference hosted by the healthcare services section of the Vatican department for integral human development, and these are: Gambling, sex and the internet.
“We chose the most important, the most widespread, the most concerning,” he said, and pointing to the problem of gambling, said it is “increasing at an exponential rate.”
“At a sociological level it seems like the more a person goes toward situations of crisis or poverty, the more people are tempted to tempt fortune,” he said, noting that it often begins with slot machines and scratch-and-win cards, and ends up becoming “a perverse game, a dependency,” with some people even putting their retirement funds on the line.
When it comes to sex and internet addiction, Pisanu said the two can often go together, such as in the cases of internet pornography. The internet in itself “is neither positive nor negative,” he said, but it depends on how it is used and “what it hides.”
Pisanu said that even though the world is in the midst of the digital age, there is still not an adequate education on the internet, especially for minors, who are most at risk either due to ignorance or exploitation.
Using an example, he pointed to a recent case in Japan in which an adult woman was found in her house with her hands still clutched together as if she were holding a hand-set after spending a week in front of the television.
“She was an adult,” he said, adding that this is one case that illustrates “the urgency of why we are speaking about this topic.”
In comments to press at the Nov. 26 presentation of the event, Monsignor Charles Namugera, an official with the Vatican department for integral development who is organizing the conference, said drugs and other dependencies “are a wound in our society,” impacting millions of people around the world.
Because of this, the conference has been organized “to better understand this phenomenon and to search for appropriate responses,” above all through school, education and the relationship with one’s family.
According to the official program, the conference, titled “Drugs and Addictions: An Obstacle to Integral Human Development,” is a response to Pope Francis’s call “for resolve in the fight against narcotics and an expression of the commitment of the Church to addressing the drug problem.”
The 2017 World Drug Report found that roughly a billion people, or 5 percent of the global adult population had used drugs at least once in 2015, and that around 29.5 million of those users suffer from some form of drug disorders, meaning there is a dependency that requires treatment.
Referring to the “new dependencies to be explored,” the program noted that addiction to the internet, pornography, sex and gambling “for some time been a rampant scourge that further diversify addictions.”
With the legalization of gambling, even when done with the intention of exposing the criminals managing the operations, it “exponentially increases the number of pathological players,” the program said, adding that taxation by the state “is to be considered incompatible from an ethical standpoint and contradictory in terms of prevention.”
Divided into seven sections, the first portion of the conference will address narco-addictions and trafficking, while the second part will delve into the “new dependencies,” with some 63 experts from around the world weighing in with their perspective and experience. Testimonies will also be given by past users, illustrating the damage dependencies can have.
In comments to Crux, Monsignor Segundo Tejado, undersecretary for the Vatican’s development office, said urgency for the Church to address the problem of drugs and new dependencies specifically comes from their observance of new patterns of human behavior.
“We constantly see in our daily lives, people who fall into these traps. So the Church, which is an expert in humanity, sees man and the problems that man has. In this sense, the urgency comes from this, from a simple observation,” he said, noting how he lives at a parish, and people frequently come to seek help with these addictions.
The Church, he said, and specifically the offices of the Holy See, are not “disconnected” from the reality, but they see the problems and “we are concerned about this.”
Calling the topic of new dependencies a “very current, very modern” issue, Tejado said they are phenomena which, along with drugs, have a huge impact on young people, which is a relevant fact ahead of the global World Youth Day gathering that will be held in Panama in January.
Tejado also noted how the Vatican in October held a month-long Synod of Bishops on young people, many of whom “are at a very high risk” due to an emotional or professional crisis, depression or family problems.
In these difficult moments, “young people fall into these traps many times without even realizing it. We realize it when the problem is hard to resolve, many times,” he said, adding that the goal of the event is to “look at man, what man is, and at times what he becomes, even without wanting to.”