Humans today spend many hours each day on non-work related technology usage: Internet, Social Media, Games and Texting. Although the American Psychiatric Association has so far only classified addiction to Internet Gaming as a disorder worth further study, it was last reviewed in 2013. Since then availability of applications for smart phones has exploded as bandwidth and speeds have increased, leading to increased addiction to “technology.”
Like addiction to drugs and alcohol, an addiction to technology can be identified based on behaviors, although physical withdrawal symptoms may not be present. How to identify an addiction to technology?
- Pre-occupation with online access devices – smart phone, tablet or computer
- A presence of anxiety, irritability, restlessness, mood swings or even sadness when online access devices are denied
- An increasing frequency in checking for updates, new messages, etc.
- Unsuccessful attempts to put online access devices away
- Loss of interest in previously pleasurable activities – hobbies, friends, and other social activities
- Continued excessive use of technology despite negative impact on relationships
- Using technology to cope with negative mood
- Lying to loved ones about the amount of time spent online
Studies have pointed to a 1.5-8.2% rate of addiction to the internet, suggesting a similar range of addiction to technology.
An addiction to drugs and alcohol happens when the brain gets used to external stimulants (drugs or alcohol) triggering the release for pleasurable dopamine and reduces its own triggering of dopamine. Consequently, an individual progresses to addiction as an external stimulant becomes necessary to feel normal. Tolerance develops when more and more of the substance is needed to release the same amount of dopamine.
A variety of mental illnesses have been noted to co-occur with an addiction to technology/internet – depression, anxiety, hostility, interpersonal sensitivity and psychoticism. However, it is not clear which came first – are people escaping to technology to escape/hide their mental illness, or if an addiction to technology/internet cause the mental illnesses.
A better approach as of now appears to be therapy in order to decrease, not eliminate, the use of technology. Abstinence cannot be the goal. While some medications have been tried (SSRis, Escitalopram, and bupropion) and proved somewhat effective to address internet addiction, no standard protocols have been established.