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Identifying And Treating Technology Addiction

John Schaffer, LPCC

Medically reviewed by

John Schaffer, LPCC

February 25, 2019

Although not commonly thought of when thinking of addiction, technology is something that many people struggle to live without. An increased prevalence of devices and technology has some individuals developing a severe addiction. Fortunately, there are treatment options for those addicted to technology.

Statista reports that, in 2007, 122 million people purchased a new smartphone. In 2015, that number was up to 1.4 billion, showing an upward digital trend that doesn’t appear to be stopping anytime soon.

These numbers are relevant because people worldwide are spending more and more time on these types of devices. Medical Daily reported on one study that found “the average college student sends and receives approximately 109.5 text messages a day and checks their phone 60 times per day.”

Pew Research Center noted that while cellphones and smartphones are dominating the market as the most commonly owned devices (with 92 percent of American adults having one), other technologically advanced items can be found in a number of U.S. homes. For instance, 73 percent of U.S. adults own a desktop or laptop computer, and 45 percent have a tablet of some sort.

Of course, all of these devices make it easier for us to stay in touch with family, friends, and what’s going on in the world. But their increased prevalence has a downside as well. For some people, technology addiction has already taken (or will take) hold.

What Is Technology Addiction?

According to Psychology Today, addiction is defined as “a condition that results when a person ingests a substance (e.g., alcohol, cocaine, nicotine) or engages in an activity (e.g., gambling, sex, shopping) that can be pleasurable but the continued use/act of which becomes compulsive and interferes with ordinary life responsibilities, such as work, relationships, or health.” Based on this definition, technology addiction is an addiction to a technological device that is somehow wreaking havoc on one’s life.

Healthline has also chimed in, stating that there are many different types of technology addiction in existence these days. Those include addiction to video games, social media, and texting. There are also a number of other Internet-based actions such as obsessively searching for pornography, engaging in repeated online gambling, and frequenting online auctions in excess.

Is Technology Addiction For Real?

As of this writing (November 2016), the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) doesn’t acknowledge technology addiction—sometimes called internet addiction—as an actual disorder. However, many reputable healthcare professionals and agencies insist that it exists. For instance, Medical News Today has published articles such as “Technology addiction – how should it be treated?” and WebMD has covered this emerging addiction as well with pieces like “When Technology Addiction Takes Over Your Life.”

That being said, a study published in the journal Addiction proposes that tech addiction be included in the DSM and also that a person must meet certain criteria in order to be diagnosed as such. According to this study, these criteria would include: using the internet for “non-essential” reasons; using it for a minimum of six hours a day for three or more months; and significant impairment of a person on both functional and psychosocial levels due to internet usage.

This same study also suggests that an individual diagnosed with technology addiction would need to have a preoccupation with the technology and withdrawal when it’s limited. In addition, the person would have one or more other symptoms associated with technology addiction, such as “lack of control, continued excessive use despite knowledge of negative effects/affects, loss of interests excluding internet, and use of the internet to escape or relieve a dysphoric mood.”

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The Prevalence Of Tech Addiction

How prevalent is this type of addiction? TechAddiction.com provides a wide array of statistics supprting the notion that technology addiction is not only an issue for individuals in the U.S., but it’s prevalent in many areas around the world—primarily for children and young adults.

For example, this site shares one study of Finland teens that found “14% of subjects were classified as normal users, 61% were mild over-users, and 24% were moderate or serious over-users.” Another study, this one involving Spanish college students, discovered that “one in ten met criteria for problematic internet use.”

In the U.S. specifically, a study published in The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse reported that internet addiction occurs at a rate of somewhere between 1.5 and 8.2 percent of the population, based on review of literature published in this subject area over a 10-year period.

Additionally, boys are almost twice as likely to be addicted as girls (3.6 percent versus 1.9 percent, respectively). This was discovered after analyzing data recorded from more than 56,000 Korean adolescents; the full study was published in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction.

Types Of Technology Addiction

Just as drug addiction can come in many forms, the same is true with technology addiction. According to an article published in Current Psychiatry Reviews in November 2012, tech addiction can involve obsessively searching the web, or it can be an addiction to any of the following online and/or technology-related sites or applications:

  • Pornography
  • Chat rooms
  • Message boards
  • Social network sites
  • Dating sites
  • Online video games
  • Online gambling sites
  • Email
  • Texting or messaging

Digital Addiction’s Negative Effects

Like any addiction, an addiction to technological devices has many negative effects. For instance, the study in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, which found that boys tend to have higher levels of addiction than girls, also found that addiction was “significantly related” to lower levels of self-rated health and happiness and higher levels of depression.

Another study, this one published in Perspectives in Psychiatric Care, found not only that that technology use is on the rise, but that “computer disorders also present themselves as marital or couple discord with the potential for online marital affairs and compulsive sexual online behavior.”

Additional studies in this topic area have found that individuals with internet addiction tend to have higher levels of anxiety and family dysfunction. For instance, one study published in the March-April 2014 edition of General Hospital Psychiatry assessed participants’ scores on three different tasks—the Beck Depression Inventory, the Experiences in Close Relationships Questionnaire, and the Family Assessment Device. It was revealed that individuals addicted to the internet had a more negative image of their family’s function in areas involving communication and family roles.

Beck Depression Inventory

The Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) is a 21-item, self-report rating inventory that measures characteristic attitudes and symptoms of depression. The BDI takes approximately 10 minutes to complete, although clients require a fifth-sixth grade reading level to adequately understand the questions.

Experiences in Close Relationships Questionnaire

The Experiences in Close Relationships Questionnaire (ECR) is designed to assess individual differences with respect to attachment-related anxiety (i.e., the extent to which people are insecure vs. secure about the availability and responsiveness of romantic partners) and attachment-related avoidance (i.e., the extent to which people are uncomfortable being close to others vs. secure depending on others).

Family Assessment Device

The Family Assessment Device (FAD) measures the dynamic characteristics of families. Respondents are asked to rate how well each of 60 statements describes their own family. Higher scores indicate worse levels of family functioning. The score for your family is compared with the population from the development study. If the result for your family is a particularly high you may want to consider further evaluation by a qualified professional. It is recommended to complete the questionnaire every 3 months.

Tech Addiction Risk Factors

Certain individuals have a higher risk of developing a technology addiction when compared to those who do not. Two factors, according to the study involving tens-of-thousands Korean adolescents, are feelings of unhappiness or depression, especially when it comes to girls who are addicted.

A 2014 study published in Addiction Research & Theory also found that shyness contributed to gaming addictions. Furthermore, general dissatisfaction with life was identified as a factor for individuals who spend a lot of time on internet sex sites.

A third study, this one published in the journal Psychiatry Research in 2013, involved 23 subjects with internet addiction. After reviewing their response to questionnaires and various neuropsychological tests, researchers discovered a link between impulsiveness, harm avoidance, “novelty seeking,” depression, anxiety, and increased addiction risk. This same study also found that individuals with internet addiction tend to have lower levels of “self-directedness and cooperativeness.”

When it comes to youth specifically, a study in the journal Computers in Human Behavior found that addiction to technology was more prevalent when the parents were divorced and the children were being raised in a single-parent home. Addiction was also higher when the youth was an only child.

Signs a Technology Addiction May Exist

How do you know if you or someone you love is addicted to some form of technology? Many different signs often exist. Listed below are a few symptoms to consider.

  • Frequently checking tech device
  • Using a cell phone to text or check emails while driving or engaged in behavior that requires full attention
  • Using the technology while in the restroom
  • Using the device during family situations that usually involve face-to-face communication
  • Feeling anxious if you’re away from your device
  • Your mood is dependent upon having access to your device
  • Using technology to “escape” from your life
  • Loss of interest in non-internet activities
  • Spending numerous hours a day on your device for non-work reasons
  • Use of your device is negatively impacting your relationship
  • You neglect your obligations because of time spent on your device
  • Use of your device when you should be sleeping, working, etc.
  • Lying to those around you about the extent of your technology use
  • Preoccupation with the internet and online activities
  • A growing amount of time needed online in order to positively affect mood
  • Withdrawal socially, with more time being spent “socially” online
  • Poor school or work performance due to time spent on the internet

Tech Addiction Treatment Options

When someone is addicted to alcohol or drugs, abstinence is typically a requirement in order to achieve and maintain sobriety. However, addiction to the internet is much different, and Healthline points out that “researchers agree that completely avoiding the internet isn’t effective.”

That’s why treatment generally centers on following various strategies to control its use. This includes setting limits regarding the amount of time spent online, no longer using applications that are difficult to spend time away from, and creating a whole new schedule with the goal of disrupting your internet-usage patterns.

In some cases, joining a support group may also help. Here are a few to consider based on the type of tech addiction that exists:

Individual or family therapy is another option that can provide positive effects. Additionally, if your tech addiction is brought on by anxiety and/or depression or your addiction has resulted in having these types of feelings, sometimes dual diagnosis treatment will provide the best results. This enables you to deal with any and all issues to better further your success.

The thing to remember is that a number of options exist when it comes to overcoming an addiction to technology. The key is figuring out which ones are the most appropriate for you to create a positive outcome, which is much better than ignoring that a problem exists.

Consequences of Not Seeking Treatment

Healthline stresses that failing to treat a technology addiction can lead to increased anxiety and depression. The site points out that it may also lead to other issues.

For instance, if you don’t take the time to cook and eat a healthy meal because you’d rather spend your time online, you could ultimately gain weight and become overweight or obese. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, this negatively affects your overall health and wellness by placing you at a higher risk of diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and kidney disease.

Another example of how avoiding treatment could harm you if you aren’t getting adequate sleep because you’re on your technological device late at night or very early in the morning. This can lead to lower immunity levels, higher weight, reduced mental well-being, increased disease, and a harder time conceiving, according to the National Health Service.

Reducing Tech Addiction in Your Teen

Because teens tend to be hit extra-hard with technology addiction risks, there are a few things you can do to help reduce these types of incidences for the youth in your care. Here are some ideas to consider:

  • Set “no internet” times. To help your child reduce his or her internet usage, establish time frames in which it is off limits. This forces your child offline during specific times of the day and week and encourages engagement in other activities.
  • Monitor their usage. When your children are online, you can monitor their usage to ensure that they’re not spending hours on end lost in cyberspace. There are even some apps that can make this process easier, automatically turning off when a certain limit is reached. Family Education provides a helpful list to choose from.
  • Encourage participation in non-internet activities. To keep your child from spending countless hours online, encourage participation in activities that don’t involve the internet.
  • Be a positive role model. If you don’t want your child to constantly be on his or her tech device, the best thing you can do is model that type of behavior. This means spending time offline yourself and not staying tied to your smartphone, tablet, or another device.

Online Tech Addiction Recovery Resources

Whether you’re struggling with a technology addiction yourself or are concerned for someone in your life who is, there are a couple of online resources available at absolutely no cost.

  • The Center for Internet and Technology Addiction – This site contains a lot of information, including a page with a few stories of internet addiction and its effects on real people. Remember, you are not alone.
  • The Center for Internet Addiction – This site provides a ton of information about tech addiction and recovery. It also has a blog with numerous articles on this addiction.
  • TechAddiction – This site hosts links to a number of technology addiction resources, some of which include information provided by professionals in the field and others that are meant to be support-providing sites.

Are You Ready to Overcome Technology Addiction?

If you have an addiction to the internet or technological devices and you’re ready to put it in your past, RehabCenter.net is here to help! Our trained and professional staff is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and we’re here to connect you to the resources you need to make a full and complete recovery.

And if it’s a loved one in your life that is struggling with tech addiction, we’re here to help with that, too. We’re here for you (and them) every step of the way!

Statista - Number of smartphones sold to end users worldwide from 2007 to 2017 (in million units)

Medical Daily - Technology Addiction: Warning Signs of A Cell Phone Addict

Pew Research Center - Technology Device Ownership: 2015

Medical News Today - Technology addiction - how should it be treated?

WebMD - When Technology Addiction Takes Over Your Life

Wiley Online Library - Proposed diagnostic criteria for internet addiction

Wiley Online Library - Computer Addiction: Implications for Nursing Psychotherapy Practice

TechAddiction - Internet Addiction Statistics - Facts, Figures, & Numbers

National Center for Biotechnology Information - Internet addiction or excessive internet use

Springer Nature - Gender Differences in Internet Addiction Associated with Psychological Health Indicators Among Adolescents Using a National Web-based Survey

Science Direct - Attachment and family functioning in patients with Internet addiction

Taylor & Francis Online - Pathological Internet use – It is a multidimensional and not a unidimensional construct

ACM Digital Library - Family factors in Internet addiction among Chinese youth: A review of English- and Chinese-language studies

Healthline - What Does It Mean to Have a Technology or Video Game Addiction?

Family Education - 10 Apps for Parents to Monitor Kids' Mobile Use

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