Technology Addiction (Gadget Addiction)
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.
While we need technology to survive in a modern social world, a severe overreliance on technology—or an addiction to certain facets of its use—can also be socially devastating. Tech dependence can lead to teen consequences that span from mild annoyance when away from technology to feelings of isolation, extreme anxiety, and depression.
What makes technology addictive?
Technology fulfills our natural human need for stimulation, interaction, and changes in environment with great efficiency. When teenagers experience stress, be it romantic rejection or a poor grade on an exam, technology can become a quick and easy way to fill basic needs, and as such, can become addictive.
Technology impacts the pleasure systems of the brain in ways similar to substances. It provides some of the same reward that alcohol and other drugs might: it can be a boredom buster, a social lubricant, and an escape from reality.
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.
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:
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
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.
Some of the modalities that are used in the treatment of technology addiction includes:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
If someone you know is suffering from excessive technology abuse, the first step is to plan an intervention or to express your concerns with their behaviors. Therapy is generally incorporated into the treatment of addiction along with any co-occurring disorders that may be present such as anxiety, depression, and/or obsessive-compulsive disorder. In some cases, medication may be used to manage symptoms of these underlying mental illnesses or to control intrusive thoughts about going online if other treatment options were not effective.
Technology can be a protective factor if used properly, and healthy adults can play a role in student technology addiction prevention by showing young people the benefits to be gained from a healthy, balanced approach to technology use.