technology addiction

What is a technology addiction?

Technology addiction is an impulse control disorder that involves the obsessive use of mobile devices, the internet or video games, despite the negative consequences to the technology user. The disorder is also referred to as digital addiction or internet addiction.

Technology addiction isn't currently included in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, although the peripheral condition of gaming disorder is listed in the International Classification of Diseases. The symptoms of technology addiction are like other behavioral addictions that are included in both manuals -- compulsive gambling and even substance abuse.

As with other impulse control disorders, technology addicts can experience times when symptoms abate and longer periods when symptoms are stronger. Those symptoms can include excessive overuse, or an inordinate amount of time devoted to a particular tech activity; behavioral changes resulting from the addiction; and negative feelings experienced when not engaging in the activity.

Why are technology addictions dangerous?

Like any other serious addiction, technology addiction can have detrimental effects on the addicted individual's personal and professional life. As the amount of time devoted to tech activity on the internet or using social media increases, time spent on other things decreases. This can negatively impact performance in the workplace and detract from time invested in personal relationships. Moreover, the addicted individual might deprioritize work or school and relationships, which can have adverse effects on their mental and physical health.

When a tech addiction becomes overpowering, it can, like any addiction, cause negative behavioral changes, further damaging professional and personal relationships.

Technology addiction can affect both children and adults. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, screen time can negatively impact the area of the brain that processes information and can affect brain development in children and adolescents.

What are the warning signs of technology addiction?

Warning signs of technology addiction include the following:

  • Excessive use. The technology might be used as an escape mechanism to avoid unpleasant life situations or relieve boredom. Immoderate use can be accompanied by an impaired sense of the passage of time and neglect of basic needs, such as hunger or sleep.
  • Loss of interest in social activities. Setting aside time with others and leisure activities in favor of tech activity is an indicator of addiction.
  • Negative repercussions. The addictive behavior continues despite adverse consequences, such as social isolation, arguments, fatigue, problems at school or work, lack of achievement or lying.
  • Hiding the addiction. Lying or obscuring excessive internet use, time on social media, use of specific apps or other tech indulgences to keep others from being aware of the excess is an addiction red flag.
  • Withdrawal symptoms. The addict might experience feelings of restlessness, moodiness, depression or irritability when attempting to self-limit use of the technology.

In addition to having negative effects on a person's mental health, technology addiction can manifest itself through physical symptoms as well. These symptoms can include headaches, neck pain, weight gain, eye strain and disrupted sleep.

What are the most common types of technology addiction?

The most common types of technology addiction include the following:

  • Social media addiction. The major social media platforms -- Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), TikTok, Snapchat and Instagram -- are all designed to keep users engaged for as long as possible, making them potentially addictive, as "likes" and other online approvals can provoke an enticing dopamine response in a user; in addition, apps on these platforms are often designed to keep users playing. TikTok, for example, captivates a user's attention by providing personalized video recommendations that are based on the content they've recently viewed and liked.
  • Gaming addiction. Online gaming apps make it easy to play from anywhere on a mobile device. Games are likewise designed to keep players engaged and make the user feel good through earned rewards accrued during play. There's often the thrill of discovery, as hidden features in a game emerge, and a sense of victory when an opponent -- real or virtual -- is vanquished, enhancing the user's dopamine response.
  • Online shopping addiction. Compulsive buying disorder is recognized by the National Institutes of Health and is characterized by excessive shopping impulses and indulging in shopping as a relief from stress. Online shopping makes this impulse easy to indulge, and shopping apps and social media enhance the attractiveness of online shopping through targeted marketing and rewards.
  • Online gambling addiction. A variation of gaming disorder, online gambling is an easy impulse to indulge through the internet and online apps. Gambling disorder is recognized by the American Psychiatric Association, as is internet gambling.
  • Pornography addiction. Addiction to internet pornography carries most of the stigma of other tech addictions but can result in emotional dependency that's particularly damaging to relationships.
A chart showing the various types of technology addictions.
There are several types of technology addiction.

Ways to unplug from technology

According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, health experts say screen time for adults and children should be limited to two hours per day outside of work or school. Screen time refers to TV screens, computer monitors and hand-held devices.

Users can limit their daily use of technology by doing the following:

  1. Putting their phone or device on "Do Not Disturb." Limiting the number of notifications or phone vibrations can reduce distractions.
  2. Using apps for good. Using apps to track and manage screen time can help with staying focused.
  3. Doing a digital detox. Users can remove certain time-consuming apps, like games or shopping sites, from their phones or devices or set usage time limits.
  4. Planning non-technology-related activities. These include taking up a new non-digital hobby, revisiting an old hobby or visiting friends or family.
  5. Setting aside time to disconnect. This means designating times throughout the day as tech-free. It is best to start gradually and reduce tech use each day or week.

What are the treatment options for a technology addiction?

For those suffering from tech addiction, several treatment options are available.

The first step in pursuing treatment is becoming aware of and acknowledging the addiction, which an individual might come to on their own or through intervention by colleagues, teachers, family or friends. Once this awareness exists, the individual must have a desire to pursue treatment for it to be effective.

Many behavioral professionals are trained in effective methods of addressing tech addiction, which can include cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, reality therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, mindfulness techniques and behavioral modification techniques. These methods can be undertaken individually, in groups or with family members, or sometimes in combination.

Learn how organizations are responding to employees' mental health needs by providing mental health services that address their well-being.

This was last updated in June 2024

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