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Technology Addiction

Updated 27 October 2022 Written by Clint MallyClinically Reviewed by Sarah Fletcher, LPC, LAC
A girl looking at her phone in the winter street

What is Technology Addiction?

Since the emergence of the internet and smartphones, research is showing an increase in the number of people struggling with an addiction to technology.

It’s not uncommon for both youth and adults to feel a need to constantly be “plugged in” to social media and the internet, but this often leads to a fear of missing out, and fear of being left out in young people.

Coupled with the neurological changes that take place in the brain while being online, technology addiction can be added to the list of behavioral addictions.

Sandstone Care assesses and treats technology addiction in both its teen and young adult treatment centers.

technology addiction
Technology Addiction Overview

Signs & Symptoms of Technology Addiction

Here are Craig Knippenberg’s nine signs a a teen or young adult might be addicted.

1. It is hard for my child to stop using screen media.
2. The amount of time my child wants to use screen media keep increasing.
3. My child sneaks using screen media.
4. My child needs more intense and novel games and apps to reach the same level of satisfaction.
5. When my child has had a bad day, screen media seems to be the only thing that helps him [or] her feel better.
6. My child thinks obsessively about their game or phone when not using it.
7. My child’s screen media use causes problems for the family.
8. My child’s academics, activities or health are suffering because of electronics.
9. My child is becoming more and more isolated.
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Prevalence of Technology Addiction

It is difficult to determine how many teens and young adults suffer from technology addiction, but a 2012 study found that 4.4% of European adolescents had what researchers termed “pathological internet use” and approximately 14% displayed what they called “maladaptive internet use.”

Other studies have found that approximately 10% of people’s internet use interferes with their work, family or social life.

To complicate things further, the developers of technology like video games and social media are actively trying to create products that tap into our addictive tendencies, talking openly about creating a “compulsion loop.”

Tech and social media effects

How Technology Addiction Impacts the Brain

On a neurological level, technology addiction operates similarly to chemical addictions, in that expectation followed by reward leads the brain to release dopamine and other feel-good chemicals.

This reward might be winning a level of a video game, or getting “likes” on a picture.

Over time, a person begins to crave this dopamine release and often requires increasing stimulus to get the same effect.

While chemical addictions often have a magnified effect by blocking the re-uptake of these feel-good chemicals so that they stay in the brain longer and more powerfully, researchers are finding that the inconsistent rewards often associated with behavioral addictions like gambling and video games also increase the flood of dopamine.

(i.e., taking a hit of marijuana will consistently yield a “reward” in the brain, while a person doesn’t know when they will beat a video game level or get a “like.” This not-knowing increases the intensity of the physiological response to reward.)

10% of people's internet use interferes with their work, family or social life

9 Tips To Managing Gaming For Teens

Here are nine practical strategies you can use with your child reduce gaming addiction:

  • If you enjoy playing video games and want to share this with your child, play only a couple of games with your kids at a time, and then turn the game off. There are many ways to bond with your children, and with healthy limits, gaming can become one of them.
  • Limit the amount of time your child/teen can play to 30-45 minutes per day (if you allow electronics during the week) and perhaps two separate 45-minute sessions on weekends. Recent research has shown that a daily one-hour limit helps increase children’s sociability. That time limit includes gaming in your own home as well as at a friend’s house.
  • Instead of implementing a time limit with Fortnite, consider having a two or three game limit. (This takes into account the fact that any child/teen would be horribly embarrassed to leave their friends in the middle of the game.) For other games, have a set time limit.
  • Implement rules for when the game can be played. Gaming time should only take place after homework is complete and should end at least 45 minutes to an hour before bedtime. Research has shown active screens stimulate the brain and can inhibit the release of Melatonin—which is necessary for sleep.
  • Consider taking a total break from the game if your son or daughter is caught sneaking it, continually fights about turning it off, or is becoming overly frustrated or emotional while playing or is irritable afterwards.
  • Have a limit on how much money can be spent on Battle Passes. After all, what child/teen doesn’t want to be part of the latest fashion trend?
  • Create a gaming area in a family area.
  • Be very strict with your time limits for first person shooter games.
  • For on-line gaming, talk to your child about only playing with friends they know in real life.
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12 Tips for Managing Smart Phones

Simple ways to help your teen look up from their phone:

  1. Wait until 8th! This organization encourages parents to pledge to wait till 8th grade to give their child a smart phone.
  2. Be good role models with your smart phone usage.
  3. Start with a flip phone and have a “no-delete” rule for texting. Only parents should delete.
  4. Phones must be turned over when requested by parents.
  5. Create smart phone “free zones” and times in the house. No phones at the dinner table.
  6. Keep school free of mobile devices. The temptation to hide a phone under a table in order to sneak a game in can be overwhelming for the developing brain
  7. Talk to and do research with your kids about various apps. Help them be aware of various dangers (i.e.: bullying, predators, challenge games, pornography) and the potential social drama’s inherent in social media usage. Discuss how others might perceive messaging.
  8. Talk to you child about use of privacy settings (vs. public) when utilizing apps.
  9. For older teens, teach and role model turning the apps to “no notifications” during family time and during homework.
  10. Block specific times of twenty minutes to check social media.
  11. Don’t save, send or forward pornographic material.
  12. Discuss consequences ahead of time for misuse and how responsible usage equals increased freedoms
A teen boy holding smartphone in his bed with gaming console

Teens & Technology Addiction

More research needs to be done on the long-term effects of technology addiction on adolescents’ development.

However, we do know that adolescents’ brains are developing into their mid-20s, pruning away “pathways” in the brain that are unused, and strengthening the “pathways” that are used frequently. This means that our habits in adolescence actually change our brains.

Based on what we know about other addictions, wiring the brain strongly for the expectation and reward of technology likely sets teens up to be more susceptible to these compulsive loops later in life.

Additionally, adolescence is an important time to build social skills and form identity. Substituting online for real-life interaction, complete with body language and subtle cues, may impact teens’ social and emotional development.

6 Tips To Manage Technology At Night

Sleep is vital for teens and young adults. Sometimes, technology can impact their sleep cycles and increase technology addiction. Use the 6 ways to help your child get a good night’s rest.

  • Start with daily limits on electronic usage outside of required homework.
  • Follow the advice of no screen time 30 – 45 minutes prior to bedtime.
  • Utilize nighttime settings on devices (f.lux).
  • No electronics in your child’s bedroom after “lights out”.
  • Use an alarm clock to wake up in the morning instead of a smart phone as devices should already be checked in to the charging station.
  • Most importantly, have a consistent bedtime and practice pre-bedtime rituals, which help soothe your child/teen emotionally and promote a good night’s sleep for their overworked frontal cortex.

Treatment of Technology Addiction

Technology addiction falls into the category of compulsive behavior that it is difficult or impossible to simply abstain from, like food or sex addictions.

Thus, treatment for technology addiction involves educating teens and young adults about what is happening in their brains and bodies, recognizing the consequences of their compulsion, helping them to set limits and interrupt the compulsive cycle, and find alternatives.

Sandstone Care integrates treatment of technology addiction into its programs by treating is as a cooccurring mental health disorder. As referenced, technology addiction is often present with other disorders including anxiety, depression, trauma, or substance use.

So taking a holistic and comprehensive treatment approach is important in order to help achieve sustainable recovery.

Some of the treatment modalities that Sandstone Care uses include:

Recovery From Technology Addiction is Possible

Recovery from technology addiction is possible, and we are here to help! Not sure if your loved one has a video game, screen, or internet addiction? Wondering if you might have a problem?

While Sandstone Care is unable to treat standalone technology addiction, in most cases, technology addiction appears in conjunction with other mental health disorders.

Sandstone Care assesses and treats technology addiction at our adolescent and young adult treatment centers.

Using a variety of different treatment modalities, our clinicians at both Cascade Canyon Teen Residential and our Day Treatment programs help guide clients as they begin to recognize and overcome their technology addiction.

Individual therapy, group process, cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavioral therapy are all tools that aid in this process.

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Online Treatment Programs

Our virtual IOP program offers the same programming that we offer in person, all online – this is ideal for those who live too far to drive to an addiction center, have transportation issues, or have health concerns that make in-person treatment challenging.

How We Are Different

Sandstone Care aims to drive positive lasting change in real people. We understand that you have a life, so we offer a more personal experience than you would find anywhere else.

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Age-Specific Care

We are age-specific, not gender-specific. We focus on the unique circumstances that teens and young adults face.

Evidence-Based Therapy

We only use treatment interventions that have been scientifically proven to provide consistent, lasting recovery.

Small Group Sizes

You are not a number, that’s why we provide a comfortable setting where your voice can be heard.

Individualized Treatment Plans

No one person is the same, and neither is their recovery journey. Your treatment program will be tailored to your unique needs.

Academic and Vocational Support

We want clients to get the most out of life, which means doing their best in the classroom or at their job.

The Family Component

Recovery involves the entire family, so we provide support for the whole family system.