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Technology Addiction

Also known as Internet Addiction

“Technology addiction” is an umbrella term for several addictive behaviors, including social media addiction, gaming addiction, and pornography. Online shopping, gambling, excessive texting or smartphone overuse may also be included. Technology addiction—also called Internet addiction, Internet use disorder (IUD) or Internet addiction disorder (IAD)—is characterized by excessive internet or technology use, the inability to control the use of time spent in these pursuits, and denial of the problem.

Whether the overuse and abuse of technology meets the clinical definition of an “addition” is controversial. Some experts claim it is, pointing to the various reports that gaming and social media have the same effect on the brain as cocaine and other drugs. The excessive use of technology may bring on chemical changes in the brain similar to those caused by substance use disorders, including changes to the brain’s white matter, disrupting neural pathways related to emotions, decision-making, and self control.

The comparison to substance addiction is tempting, because it's also vaguely true that the use of the internet and technology activates the same pleasure centers of the brain that drugs do. But then, so do other pleasurable—and perfectly healthy—activities, such as running, eating, and kissing. because devices are stimulating to the same reward centers of the brain.

Teen With Tech

On the other hand, the overuse use of technology is different from a true addiction in significant ways. Addictions such as drug addiction and alcoholism lead to chemical changes in the brain which creates dependency in order to function, requiring more and more of the drug of choice in order to be able to function. Most teens, even those who consume technology nearly constantly, can put down the remote or the phone and walk away, even if it pains them to do it.

Technology Overuse is Problematic

It’s not likely the medical or behavioral health community will agree anytime soon whether technology addiction is a true “addiction,” what it’s caused by, how it is or if it is related to other conditions such as mental health or ADHD, etc. (although "Internet gaming disorder," which involves excessive online gaming, may soon be included by the American Psychiatric Association).

However, technology addiction doesn’t have to be clinically classified as an addiction to be problematic; with American teens spending an average of up to nine hours a day texting, gaming, browsing social media, and posting on multiple networks, the potential issues have become obvious. Technology overuse interferes with school, relationships, family time, sleep habits, and has been linked to stress, loneliness, depression, poor physical health, obesity, familial conflict, and delayed launch in young adults.

45% Online 'Almost Constantly'

Even teens themselves admit there’s a problem. In the most recent Common Sense Media study, half of teenagers said they “feel” they’re addicted to their mobile device, and three-quarters are compelled to respond to texts and other notifications immediately. Half of the teens in the survey said they preferred texting or interacting through a digital device than talking to people right in front of them, and they admit technology is keeping them up at night and distracting them from homework.

As for how much overall time is spent with technology, the numbers are shocking. 45% of teens in one study said they are online 'almost constantly', and a full 9 out of 10 teens say that technology addiction is a serious problem facing their generation.

Warning Signs of Tech Addiction

So, what are the warning signs a teen is spending too much time texting, posting, or playing online? Here are a few possible signs of a tech addiction:

Obsessed with tech, can’t put down device or walk away

Unrealistic about how much time spent on technology, making excuses for use

Use of tech interfering with everyday activities (ie sleep, school, social activities)

Becomes irritable or angry when asked to do without tech

Obsessing throughout the day about what to share or post, even mundane things

Being without wifi (or even the thought of it) cause genuine discomfort and anxiety

Using technology is the first thing you do in the morning and the last thing you do at night

This list is not exhaustive; some types of technology addiction will manifest in different ways than others, and no one person will have every symptom. But if you of someone you love has any of these warning signs, it may be time to get help.

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