Right now, many things in the “real world” feel less than normal. Your favorite music venue or museum might be shut down or limiting the number of visitors, and many people are choosing to stay home for health reasons. That means many of us are spending more time on screens, which could lead to an increase in technology addiction.
Technology is ubiquitous in modern American life. We bank online, shop online, socialize online and even go to school online. It’s no wonder that in 2019 28% of Americans told the Pew Research Center that they’re online “almost constantly.” Among young people it was even higher — nearly half of adults 18-29 said they’re almost always online.
While that has some useful aspects, it can also have major drawbacks. More screen time has been linked to depression and anxiety, and in some cases it can even lead to addiction.
What is Tech Addiction?
Health experts don’t agree on what tech addiction is, or if it even really exists at all. However, the idea that technology can be addicting is gaining more and more acceptance. In 2018 the World Health Organization added Gaming Disorder to its International Classification of Diseases. The condition is defined as having decreased control over time spent gaming, or spending time gaming to the detriment of other activities in life.
American health authorities haven’t followed suit yet. However, more and more mental health experts are recognizing that tech can be addictive. Writing for The Washington Post, psychologist Doreen Dodgen-Magee says that tech is contributing to shorter attention spans, decreased ability to focus and more depression and anxiety.
“It’s time to put our phones down and begin an informed conversation about how technology is impacting our mental health,” she writes. “Our clients’ health and the well-being of our communities may depend on it.”
How Can Tech Be Addictive?
Research on addiction shows that it’s a brain disease. Different substances affect the brain differently. However, when we doing something pleasurable — whether that’s using drugs, giving our kids a hug of having sex — our brains release dopamine. Dopamine is a powerful chemical that makes us feel good and leaves us wanting more. When we seek that dopamine hit again and again at the expense of other areas of our lives, we become addicted.
Tech addiction works in the same way. Many tech offerings activate the brain’s reward system. When you log into social media and see new notifications, you instantly get excited — someone is interacting with you. The same thing can happen when you’re playing video games — the win is thrilling, so you’re willing to chase it again and again. Searching for the next dopamine hit — from a new like, a win, or an interesting piece of news — can leave you addicted to tech.
Do I Need Treatment for Tech Addiction?
Some people are able to reevaluate their relationship with technology and cut back on their own. This is just the same as the way some people are able to control their drug or alcohol use. If you’re worried about your technology use, it’s okay to try to reduce it on your own.
However, many people require professional treatment for technology addiction. This is especially true if tech is having negative consequences in your life — if you’re dropping work projects or letting your relationships slide in order to spend more time online, you should seek professional help.
Treatment for tech addiction will vary. Unlike drugs or alcohol, you can’t simply swear off tech and abstain for life. During treatment for technology addiction, you’ll learn how to set boundaries with technology, and use it as the tool that it is. That will put the control back in your hands, to make technology work for you rather than letting it rule your life.