Internet addiction and technology addiction are terms used to describe behaviors that revolve around spending inordinate amounts of time accessing the internet via digital devices like cell phones, laptops, tablets, or computers. These terms also include obsessive involvement with social media sites and apps, texting, and email to the extent that they interfere with quality of life and relationships.
Although the terms internet addiction and technology addiction are used frequently, neither the APA nor the DSM-5 recognize internet or technology abuse as addictions at this time. Instead they are considered disorders or “conditions for further study”. Proving whether or not certain obsessive behaviors associated with internet, digital media, and technology use are destructive enough to the brain, relationships, and other aspects of life to be categorized as an addiction will continue to be a debated and researched topic.
Although social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Snapchat are sites that most people access for fun, some individuals feel compelled to visit them excessively. For these, this extreme use of social media can create and reinforce harmful habits and the distortion of reality. Some individuals skip important activities or real-life social functions because engagement on social media commands their attention. This obsession with social and digital media typically lead to an overall decrease in quality of life, self-perception, and connection.
Some people are captivated with “following” a particular individual or personality on social media sites, whether for positive or negative reasons. This type of obsessive preoccupation combined with easy internet access can drive an individual to religiously check up on the other person’s social activity, regardless of where the individual is or what they are doing.
Obsession with Technological Advancements
There is evidence that keeping up with newly released technological advancements may also be addicting. For example, a person may feel compelled to purchase a new computer, iPhone, video game, or iPad the moment it hits the market. While such devices can make life easier and add excitement, those who consistently overspend or go into debt, in order to buy the newest electronic devices, are exhibiting addictive behavior.
Cell Phone and Smartphone Dependency
Adults and now teenagers are becoming increasingly dependent on their cell phones, even when they don’t need to be. There are individuals who find it difficult to go anywhere or do anything without using their cell phone. It is no secret that such behavior has led to frustrated relationships, increasingly distracted individuals, and multiple car accidents and fatalities over the past ten years.
Here are some stats from a 2012 study done on smartphone owners by the PEW Research Center:
- 67% find themselves checking their phone for calls, alerts, or messages, even if they did not hear their phone ring or vibrate; 18% say they do this “frequently”
- 44% sleep with their phone by their bed to ensure they don’t miss any calls, text messages, or other updates during the night.
- 29% describe their cell phone as “something they can’t imagine living without”.
In a 2015 report by the Pew Research Center, this statistic went up by 59%, with 46% of those surveyed saying they can’t imagine living without their cell phone compared to the 29% in 2012.
Smartphones frequently inspire their owners to feel “productive” and “happy” — but can also lead to distraction and frustration…Young users are particularly likely to use a smartphone to avoid boredom — and ignore other people.
– Pew Research Center
Internet Addiction or Internet Compulsive Disorder
Some researchers consider abnormally heavy use of the internet as nothing more than the latest form of “Internet Compulsive Disorder,” a phrase coined in the 1990s when the internet was gaining popularity at an extraordinary pace. As far back as 1992, scientists theorized that the excessive use of the internet could impair school or work performance and affect interpersonal relationships in a manner similar to the use of illicit drugs.
Dr. David Greenfield, founder of The Center for Internet and Technology Addiction (CITA) and assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine, says that this phenomenon of feeling compelled or obsessed with checking emails, texts, and social media, is all related to a neurochemical in our brains called dopamine.
Dopamine is responsible for generating the pleasure experience in the midbrain. Dr. Greenfield says that “We get a little squirt of it every time we get positive news from a friend or loved one by text, email or social media. Our brain is conditioned to seek that positive ‘hit’, leading many of us to check for messages compulsively.”
Abnormal Obsession with Internet and Technology
Obsessively checking and responding to emails and texts is a form of internet and technology addiction. It is ok to desire engagement and interaction with friends and family through technology but it becomes abnormal when someone feels internally compelled or anxious about the need to send emails or to check text messages while driving, sleeping, or engaging in other activities.
Similarly, if a person has difficulties leave his or her computer or digital device to participate in everyday activities like schoolwork or social obligations, that person is likely displaying addictive tendencies. Also of concern are those who consistently choose and prefer to socialize with online “friends” and virtual realities over real world friends and realities.
Treatment for Internet and Technology Addiction
Those who find that cyber activities are encroaching upon real life and relationships should immediately set limits for themselves and try to adhere to them as best as possible. Additionally, frequent and self-imposed periods of time that are unplugged from all electronic devices should be put in place.
As with other addictions, disorders, or obsessions, it is helpful to have someone that will check up on the progress toward decreasing internet and technology use. This person should be someone that is respectful and compassionate. The new found time can be used to interact with family, friends, or coworkers, play with pets, participate in a physical activity, or just interact with reality. Those who suspect they have a serious internet or technology disorder should seek treatment from a qualified professional.
Are you or someone you love suffering from technology or internet addiction? Call our addiction advisors for help and guidance: 1-800-259-1361