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Conceptualizing Technology Addiction

Technology Addiction is a serious social concern and psychological disorder that affects all people, with the underprivileged population being affected the most. A study by Sanga Lee and others in 2022 found that children in low income households spend more time on screens than other children. In 2020 I attended a training by California Psychological Association on how to treat technology addiction clinically. According to this training program, children from low income households spend on average 2 more hours each day on screens than children in higher income households.

Currently, technology addiction is not a diagnosis in the DSM-5. This may be because it is a pandemic so including it as a diagnosis would increase healthcare costs dramatically. Moreover, once it is an official diagnosis it may lead to a difficult social discourse on the intersection of wellbeing and socioeconomic factors. Nonetheless, Internet Gaming Addiction is a diagnosis in the DSM 5th edition. Therefore, we may look at the criteria for the Internet Gaming Addiction and extrapolate this diagnostic criteria to think critically about technology addiction in general.

According to DSM-5, the clinical diagnosis of Internet Gaming Disorder is indicated by meeting five (or more) of the following nine criteria: “(1) preoccupation with online/offline gaming (2) experience of unpleasant symptoms when gaming is taken away (3) the need to spend increasing amounts of time engaged in games (4) unsuccessful attempts to control participation in games (5) loss of interest in previous hobbies and entertainment as a result of, and with the exception of games (6) continued excessive use of games despite knowledge of psychosocial problems (7) deceiving family members, therapists, or others regarding the amount of gaming (8) use of games to escape or relieve negative moods and (9) jeopardizing or losing a significant relationship, job, or education or career opportunity because of participation in games.”

Girls are more likely than boys to spend more time on social media and objectify themselves based on images from the internet. This is just one of many reasons why thinking beyond the Internet Gaming Diagnosis diagnosis in the DSM-5 and extrapolating the addiction criteria used for gaming, gambling, and substance abuse onto technology addiction is necessary.

During parental interviews of children I saw as a K-5 school counselor I would ask about the technology policy in the home. In children with technology addiction, I noticed a distinct cluster of health, social, and academic impairments.

Technology addiction can result because of the effect the blue light from screens has on the brain. The blue light from screens causes the brain to release dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that allows us to focus and feel good. At first when we get on screens we get a dopamine rush. This is why it is addictive. Then after a few hours a day on a screen the unnatural release of dopamine leads to a dopamine depletion. When dopamine is depleted, inner resources to focus on school work and/or to work on personal goals are diminished. Furthermore, low levels of dopamine lead to irritability and cause more social problems in the home. When the brain becomes dependent on screens to release dopamine to some extent it unlearns how to release dopamine independent of technology.

Technology addiction poses many physical and psychological health risks to people and families. When I worked in workers’ compensation I had multiple patients who developed one or more psychological diagnosis secondary to a physical condition from years of sitting in front of a computer. Spending time on a computer and looking at screens can lead to poor posture, back and neck problems, and carpal tunnel syndrome. When physical issues go unresolved some people develop chronic pain which in turn leads to symptoms of depression and anxiety.

In recovering from technology addiction, we need to understand and accept we may temporarily go through a low point where we have less of the dopamine available to feel as good as we may like. Once we recover control of our dopamine cycle the self-agency to focus our intention and attention on the physical world around and inside of us increases.

If you enjoyed this article please stay tuned for my next blog post on practical tips to reduce screen time. In the meantime, please start tracking your screen time to establish a baseline and consider wearing a pair of blue blocker glasses to block the blue light from screens. Even high fashion designers, such as Chanel are releasing blue blocker glasses these days. There are many affordable models too, such as Uvex Skyper ($13 a pair).

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