Technology addictions, also commonly known as digital addictions or internet addictions, are often overlooked due to the acceptance that society has placed on using digital devices. Technology addictions often go unnoticed by loved ones because the addicted individual may appear as though they are tending to something important such as work-related tasks on their digital device, when in reality hiding behind the screen is something extraneous. When a technological problem does develop and is noticed it is often not viewed as being an imminent risk akin to an addiction to alcohol or drugs because not only is it more acceptable, but it is also not viewed as being acute or deadly. Despite these beliefs, pathological technology use can indeed be pervasive and detrimental to one’s health and wellbeing. In a growing digital age there is a rapid expansion of digital use and subsequent potential for problematic pathological technology use to ensue.
Why Are Technology Addictions Dangerous?
Contrary to popular belief, technology addictions can be extremely dangerous and contribute to various neurological, psychological and social problems. In extreme cases digital addictions can even be fatal. Although fatality resulting from a digital addiction is rare, it does happen. Most commonly fatal cases result from individuals engaging in digital usage during high-risk behaviors such as driving a motor vehicle or taking pictures/video for social media content on cliffs, bridges, or other threatening places that can result in death with one wrong step. There have also been extremely rare instances of individuals engaging with technology use for long durations of time without eating, drinking or sleeping for days on end that resulted in death.
More commonly, digital addictions effect individuals and families in other destructive and dangerous ways. For example, digital addictions can have detrimental effects on individual’s career or education as they spend their time engaging in digital usage rather than focusing on school- or work-related tasks. Digital addiction can lead to procrastination and avoidance of work. Digital addictions can also impede on relationships as the individual loses interest in socializing or communication at the expense of their digital device. Technology is a breeding ground for isolation.
Technology addictions can have a severe impact on one’s mental health, exacerbating or contributing to anxiety, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as well as other disorders. Technology addiction also can lead to restlessness, irritability, agitation, and anger. Furthermore, technology addiction can impact the brain’s ability to produce natural feel-good neurotransmitters such as dopamine, as well as lead to increased impulsivity.
Technology addiction can also lead to severe physical health problems such as headaches, weight gain or loss, backaches, and carpal tunnel syndrome. Oftentimes digital dependencies can also lead to insomnia or poor sleep-hygiene, which can then also contribute to exacerbating underlying mental health conditions and increased stress levels. Excessive digital usage can also impede on physical health as a result of poor nutrition, lack of physical exercise, and inadequate self-care.
What Are the Signs of a Technology Addiction?
In the United States there is currently no clinical diagnosis for technology addiction, and it is not mentioned in the Diagnostic and Statistical manual of Mental Disorders 5th Edition (DSM-V). The closest such diagnosis classified by the American Psychiatric Association is Internet Gambling Disorder, a subset of Gambling Disorder. Internet addiction has however been formally recognized by the American Psychological Association, and countries such as China and South Korea in addition to the World Health Organization have recognized Internet addiction as a significant threat to public health.
Despite lack of consensus on diagnostical criteria for digital addictions there are various studies that provide practical considerations of signs and symptoms of digital addictions. Although spending excessive amounts of time on digital devices can be a sign of a technology addiction, frequency and duration of time spent on digital devices in and of itself does not necessarily denote a technological addiction. More importantly a technological addiction is apparent if and when digital usage interferes with one’s daily life and general wellbeing, and if the individual as a preoccupation with using their digital medium of choice.
Some signs of a technology addiction include:
Some mental health professionals consider digital addictions to be a symptom of another disorder such as anxiety or depression instead of a separate disorder. Some also view it as an impulse control disorder (not otherwise specified). Nevertheless, many professionals in the field of mental health and addiction do view digital addictions as its own mental health disorder, and there are considerations for including it in future revisions of the Diagnostic and Statistical manual of Mental Disorders. The American Society of Addiction Medicine has acknowledged that addictions are not limited to drugs and alcohol but can also be behavioral in nature. The cornerstone of all addictions is loss of control, changes in mood, tolerance, withdrawal, and continuation of use despite adverse consequences, all of which are criteria that a digital dependence can meet.
What Are the 6 Most Common Types of Technology Addiction?
Some of the most common forms of technology addiction are:
Gaming has become more popular than ever before and are available not only on consoles and computers but also right on your phone. Some of today’s most popular games include Fortnite, World of Warcraft, League of Legends, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, Roblox and several others. Part of what makes gaming so addictive are built in rewards, hidden features, and side quests. Every time an individual completes a level, beats a boss, kills an opponent, or unlocks a new player or level the individual receives a boost of dopamine, resulting in gaming-induced pleasure. Some games are never ending. Socially interactive games such as eSports have also become increasingly popular. Such games may be more socially engaging than one-player games but can also lead to a false sense of social interaction. Gaming can also be compounded with gambling (example: eSports betting) and lead to a dual addiction of both gaming and gambling.
Social media platforms such as TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and others are highly addictive, and YouTube can also be grouped into this category. Every time an individual receives engagement via a “like,” “follow” or “comment” the individual’s brain releases feel-good neurotransmitters, ultimately resulting in wanting more engagement. Social media, like social gaming, can invoke a false sense of social engagement leaving individuals feeling isolated and alone. Endless scrolling of social media feeds, constantly refreshing feeds or binge watching TikTok or YouTube videos also serve as a way to fend of loneliness, fight off boredom and fill other psychological voids. Doomscrolling and a fear of missing out also play a large part in social media addiction. It is also important to note that social media addictions that involve vanity such as posting selifes, using filters, and a hyperfocus on physical appearance of self or others can transcend into other disorders such as body dysmorphia disorder or plastic surgery addiction and other ways of altering one's physical appearance.
While Gambling Disorder is a diagnostic addiction unto itself, it is important to recognize and treat the pathological digital usage in tandem with pathological gambling when gambling is done virtually. Online gambling includes but is not limited to online casino games, online poker, online sports betting, eSports gambling, day trading, and cryptocurrency trading. As previously mentioned, Internet Gambling Disorder is recognized by the American Psychiatric Association as a diagnosable mental health disorder. Of all the various forms of addictions, including substance use addictions, gambling addiction has the highest rates of suicide. As such, it is imperative to address problem gambling as soon as issues arise.
Porn addiction involves obsessive and compulsive watching of porn, and often coincides with excessive masturbation, hypersexual disorder, and an emotional dependency to porn. Oftentimes porn addiction results in an individual’s sex life becoming less satisfying and becoming less interested in real sexual engagement. As such, porn addiction often results in real life relationships deteriorating. Excessive porn usage often results in feelings of shame, guilt, loneliness, sadness and frustration.
An online shopping addiction, also known as compulsive buying disorder, is a behavioral addiction that involves impulsive and compulsive buying of good and services online. Online shopping addictions often serve as a temporary way to induce pleasure and feel good, and as a way of avoiding negative emotions and evading boredom. Online shopping is not only about the purchasing in and of itself, but is also about the excitement of browsing prior to the purchase.
Individuals who are addicted to their work are often praised for being hard workers, and while there is great admiration for good work ethic, problems can arise when individuals become dependent on their work. The work becomes a means of escape, and relationships, mental health, and general wellbeing can suffer. While work addiction is different from digital addiction, there are often technological problems associated with work addiction, especially for those in executive level positions or others who do office-related work. For example, being tethered to your email, especially late at night or during other non-work hours, on weekends or holidays can be extremely problematic, resulting in problems connecting with family, increased stress, and other problems relating to psychological and general wellbeing.
What is the Treatment for a Technology Addiction?
The first step of treating a digital addiction is the individual’s awareness of the problem, and a desire to want to get help. This is often the most challenging step for the individual. Oftentimes the problem is realized by family and friends who may seek out help on behalf of the individual. In many cases an intervention is needed in order to assist the individual into recognition of the problem and help them initiate treatment. If the individual is motivated the issue can resolve itself with self-corrective behaviors, screen-life balance, and assistance from technological innovations that help with digital moderation such as by enabling app restrictions or WiFi restrictions, turning off notifications, enabling “Do Not Disturb” mode, setting up automatic email/text responses, enabling automatic downtime, blocking apps or websites, using screen time reports, and other such innovations that can help curb digital use.
For those that may need to seek professional help from an addiction therapist there are different modalities of treatment available for technology addictions. Since each individual is unique with their own set of circumstances, history, and symptoms it is important to find a treatment approach that works for each respective individual, and tailor it to meet their needs. It will be important to address the contributing factors that led a digital addiction such as neurological imbalances, underlying mental health issues, and environmental stressors.
Some common modalities of treatment for digital addiction include Motivational Interviewing, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), Reality Therapy (RT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), experiential adventure based therapy, mindfulness based relapse prevention, and behavioral modification. Therapy may be carried out as individual therapy, family therapy, group therapy or a combination of the three using a multimodal treatment approach. Pharmacological interventions may also be used to address underlying mental health issues. Holistic and wellness-based treatments are often encouraged focusing on meditation, nutrition, physical exercise, nature, and other natural remedies. Although there are inpatient residential treatment options available for digital addictions, treatment is generally done on an outpatient basis.
In the digital world we find ourselves in total abstinence from technology is unrealistic, nor is it an effective means of correction of the problem. There is consensus that abstinence from digital devices should not be the goal of treatment, but rather the goal should be moderation and balance. However, abstinence from digital devices, or at least abstinence from the source of the problem (ex: social media, gaming, porn, and other digital sources that are not at the root of the individual’s addiction), may be encouraged for the initiation of treatment for up to 45 to 90 days until the individual is able to work towards moderation if moderation is the goal.
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