How many times have you said, “I’m addicted to my phone!” Have you or a loved one experienced addictive patterns connected to online sites or video games? The world of tech addiction is very prevalent but surprisingly under-researched. There are not even well-established diagnostic terms for technology addiction. This article explores these topics further.
Just as with any other addictive disorder, tech addiction involves patterns of compulsive use to the extent of creating harm for someone’s life. The person may feel that they require more and more use over time, akin to patterns of tolerance to a substance. That person might also feel negative emotions or anxiety when the technology is removed, very much similar to that of substance withdrawal. Overall, we categorize technology addiction under the topic of “Process Addictions” which also include compulsive gambling and sexual addiction.
Internet Use Disorder
If a person’s addictive patterns involve repeated online activity through social media, web-searches and the general addiction to one’s smartphone, we would use the term “Internet Use Disorder.” This style of tech addiction is the most common amongst people who describe themselves as being “addicted to Facebook” or other online platforms.
This addiction commonly grows out of our phone devices, which are inherently designed to be addictive. Today’s phones are sleek, fast, and quite artistic. Using them makes us want to use them some more! If you check your email feature on your phone, it can be quite rewarding to see the new email waiting for you. Deleting junk mail is also quite satisfying. This pattern flows as such:
- “I need to check my phone!” (Often this process is unconscious)
- “Look…I have a few new emails.”
- “Now I’m deleting or reading through these emails.”
- “Job well done! This whole process felt pretty good. I’ve learned that checking my phone is good and will do it again…maybe in a few minutes!”
When people enter residential treatment at CeDAR, we require them to essentially detoxify from their smartphones. This allows them to disconnect from the pressures and addictive patterns of everyday life and focus on substance recovery. Many people have a difficult time letting go of their phones, indicating how much of a hold these devices have on our lives.
If someone shows addictive patterns to video games or smartphone apps, we might consider this to be more of a “Gaming Disorder.” While having some overlap with internet use disorder, gaming disorder can go pretty deep into fantasy worlds, puzzles and challenges, and other forms of pattern reinforcement.
Gaming disorder is distinct from internet use disorder in that it often involves attaching to the particular story arc or activity of a particular game. Making progress in the story can be quite reinforcing. Many games also promote such reinforcement from a business model, as they are able to monetize the game and charge for ‘in-game purchases’ which can really add up. It is not uncommon for a teen to spend hundreds of dollars maximizing their experience on “Fortnite” or playing “Angry Birds.”
Gaming disorder is common amongst those who struggle with social anxiety. They might feel a social connection behind the safety of a video game console. In these cases, we work to improve someone’s ability to connect in person, rather than through a digital world.
One of the most destructive addictions to a person is that of “Gambling Disorder.” Historically, this has included sports betting, card playing, slot machines, and casino gaming. It is important to acknowledge that gambling disorder does not necessarily require technology, it just can be so easily accessible to users today through online platforms.
Gambling disorder also has significant behavioral overlap with other addictions, the most common being that of tobacco use. For individuals who have severe problems with gambling and alcohol use, sobriety and recovery from each is imperative for overall health. If someone relapses on alcohol, their risk of traveling to the casino needs to be monitored.
If you or a family member are concerned about tech addiction, CeDAR can help. We work regularly with individuals who need to detox from behaviors as well as substances. This all starts with the basic detox process, be it from alcohol or a smartphone screen. Once we can help you break the cycle, we can build a stable recovery.