For professionals

Are you familiar with the DÉBA-Internet tool?

By the PAUSE team, in collaboration with Sylvie R. Gagnon, member of the PAUSE committee of experts

Connaissez-vous l’outil DÉBA-Internet?

If you work as a counselor with teenagers or young adults, you are probably encountering youth at risk of problematic Internet use (PIU). Did you know that there is now a tool that allows you to screen for possible PIU?

A scientific consensus has not yet been reached on the terms and definition of problematic Internet use – commonly referred to as cyberaddiction. Yet, it is essential that you, the professionals in the field, have access to validated tools to screen people for problematic Internet use and identify their service needs.

UPI screening and assessment tools

In recent years, several tools have been developed around the world to better screen for and assess the consequences of problematic Internet and screen use. Some have been designed specifically for video games; others for Internet use in general. You may already be familiar with the Internet addiction test, the Addictive Intensity Evaluation Questionnaire, the Game Addiction Scale, or the assessment interviews based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) diagnostic criteria for online gaming disorder.

In response to the growing demand for services in clinical and school settings, a Quebec team of researchers specialized in addiction developed the Assessment and Screening of Assistance Needs – Problematic Internet Use (DÉBA-Internet) tool. Launched in January 2020, this tool is part of the broad family of DÉBA tools that you may be familiar with as they have been validated and used for several years in Quebec. You may already be using the grids to screen for problems related to alcohol and drugs or gambling.

DÉBA-Internet: Who is it for? Why is it useful?

The tool is intended for counselors and professionals in all settings, both public and community, who work with young people aged 12 and over or with adults who are likely to experience negative effects associated with their Internet and screen use.

The objective of the DÉBA-Internet tool is to screen for PIU using a questionnaire to be filled out by the counselor in face-to-face mode. The questionnaire is divided into two parts:

  • The first section focuses on the type of activities the person has engaged in online in the past year and the frequency and average duration of the sessions.
  • The second section looks at the person’s screen time per week for the past year (to better understand the place of the Internet and screens in their lives). The questions help determine whether screen use continues despite signs of fatigue and exhaustion, whether use is for the purpose of dealing with negative emotions, and whether there is a loss of control over use. The questionnaire also documents the perception of members of the user’s circle, specifically their friends and romantic partner.

Points are assigned to each question for a total score of 100. The screening score is set at 39. When an individual obtains a score of 39 or more, it is recommended that they be referred to a specialized addiction service of the CISSS and CIUSSS, where a specialized evaluation of the problem can be conducted and the level of services required can be determined and, if necessary, rehabilitation services can be provided.

The pros and cons of DÉBA-Internet

The DÉBA-Internet tool has several advantages:

  1. It is a validated tool that is easy to use and quick to complete (completion time is only a few minutes).
  2. It allows a simple detection of PIU.
  3. It provides an overview of the individual’s Internet and screen use habits as well as which elements to work on.
  4. The detection threshold is clear and pre-set (score of 39 or more out of 100).
  5. It identifies the activities that the person spends the most time on.

The tool also has some limitations:

  1. It does not provide a complete picture of a person’s Internet and screen use.
  2. It does not recommend any specific clinical interventions, except for referral if the threshold is exceeded.
  3. Particular attention must be paid to the weighting of each question in order to properly determine the final score.

Training is required

The DÉBA-Internet tool is available free of charge online. Two separate grids have been designed for the teen and adult populations and are available in French and English. Although the tool is in the public domain, training is required for the use of DÉBA-Internet. Interested in the training? Contact the regional addiction respondent of the CISSS or CIUSSS in your region or consult the RISQ website.

Still to come for the detection and assessment of PIU

Clinical and scientific knowledge on PIU is constantly and rapidly evolving. At present, DÉBA-Internet is in its first version, but the authors continue to work on adapting it.

Moreover, other projects are being developed in Quebec to meet the needs of professionals who work with at-risk youth or those with PIU, including detection and specialized assessment tools. More specifically, in terms of specialized intervention, the objective of the Virtu-A research project (currently only in French) is the implementation and evaluation of a manualized intervention for young people aged 15 to 25 with PIU.

Published on April 25, 2023