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Technology Addiction

Authored by Julia Smith

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.

What is Technology Addiction?

Technology addiction falls into a category of addiction termed behavioral addictions. Behavioral addictions are widely recognized by mental health and addiction professionals and include other behaviors such as gambling and sex. A behavioral addiction is characterized by a progressive inability to control, regulate, or limit the behavior. Technology addiction also shares similarities with obsessive-compulsive disorders.

Our modern world is characterized by increasing connectivity and technology use. However, some teens and young adults cross from normal use into a realm in which their technology use is having a negative impact on school, work, family, and social life. Technology addiction includes an addiction to video games, social networking, and surfing the web, among other things.

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.”

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.)

Technology Addiction Treatment

Signs & Symptoms of Technology Addiction

In a highly connected world in which many people spend a great deal of time on their devices, how do you recognize when use has crossed into the realm of addictive behavior? Here are some signs to watch for:

  • Poor hygiene
  • Decreasing interest in offline activities
  • Irritability or frustration when forced to disconnect
  • Persistent use in spite of negative consequences at school, work, or in relationships
  • Preoccupation with online experiences—even in offline time tend to think about past experiences and plan for future experiences

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.

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.

Online Treatment Programs

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

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