While technology makes us feel blessed, its mindless usage could be addictive. Where does one draw the line?
Are you completely hooked onto your Facebook, Instagram, Google Hangouts, Twitter, PS4 and your WhatsApp accounts? Do you find it hard not to check your phone every five minutes and refresh the notifications and reply to the pop up messages on your screen almost instantaneously? Do you love to play video games on the Internet so much so that you pretty much forget the physical world that exists around you? Or are you a compulsive online shopper who must buy everything you get online? Do you love to indulge in the sales, discounts and various offers that e-sites offer from time to time? Is your excessive screen and Internet usage interfering with your everyday functionality and impacting primary relationships, work, school, hobbies, interests, social meet ups?
If your answer is yes to any of these questions, then you may be suffering from Internet Addiction Disorder, also commonly referred to as Compulsive Internet Use (CIU), Problematic Internet Use (PIU), or iDisorder.
Technology addiction is defined by, an impulse control disorder that involves the obsessive use of mobile devices, screens, the Internet or video games, despite negative consequences to the user of the technology. The disorder may also be referred to as digital addiction, or internet addiction.
The number of cases that come in with gaming, phone and screen addictions are only on the rise and it is genuinely a huge concern as most of the clients are in the prime age group of 12-28 years. Most of them are school referrals and some desperate parents who bring in their little and not so little adolescents. It is, however, almost rare to have an individual accept with complete responsibility that yes, he/she is suffering not only from over-usage but in fact is addicted to his gadget(s).
Guilt, dishonesty, depression, anxiety, feeling ‘high’ or euphoric whilst using the gadget, inability to keep and maintain schedules, isolated behaviour, lack of purpose and time management, increased defensiveness, aggressive behaviour when the gadget is taken away, shoddy work — personal and professional, avoidance of work to be completed on time, mood swings, agitation and increased irritation and procrastination are some of the heightened symptoms.
The brain experiences the exact process, similar to that of any other form of chemical dependency and addiction, such as drugs, alcohol, nicotine and so on.
The excessive usage of gadgets, screens and gaming affect and impact the pleasure centre of the brain. The addictive behaviour triggers release of dopamine that promotes pleasurable experiences activating further release of this chemical and the cycle goes on. Over time, more and more of the activity is needed to induce the same pleasurable response, creating a dependency and an addiction.
Behavioural and physical symptoms such as backaches, headaches, neck pains, carpal tunnel syndrome, insomnia, poor nutrition (failing to eat or eating anything in excess to avoid being away from the computer), poor personal hygiene (not brushing, bathing to stay online), dry eyes and other vision problems are very common in this condition.
Internet addiction also causes changes in the prefrontal region of the brain (the area that is associated with remembering details, attention, planning, and prioritising tasks). This is rather detrimental as it literally grips one’s capability to prioritise tasks, work, school assignments, studying, eating, nature breaks, leisure activities, outdoor play, exercise, your entire life in short, i.e., the screen literally replaces your life.
Another reason why one might be so addicted to screen activity (e.g. gaming, gambling, shopping, pornography, and so on), is because it provides multiple layers of rewards. That is, constant surfing of the Internet leads to multiple rewards that are unpredictable. Each level of your game, Facebook and WhatsApp refresh button gives you unpredictable results that keeps you entertained and “hooked”, to keep coming back for more. Certain games, such as MMROPGs (massively multiplayer online roleplaying games) – including World of Warcraft and Everquest may certainly lead to internet addiction because, in effect, they never end.
Finally, there are also claims that the inherent predisposition of an individual could also be a reason to be addicted to the Internet. For example, with anxiety or depression, you may turn to the Internet to seek solace and relieve your sufferings. Shy individuals, and especially those with social awkwardness and social anxiety, might also be at a higher risk, as this offers a ‘people free’ environment and does not need any interpersonal interaction whilst is hugely emotionally rewarding to the individual.
Step 1 – Recognising that a problem exists. If the client (not the parent, sibling, friend, spouse) does not believe he/she has a problem, he/she is not likely to seek treatment.
Step 2- Action. Control, monitor and ration your internet usage and the sites you visit. Deleting games and your accounts are all temporary measures and sooner or later people re-activate them. Total abstinence from the Internet is not an effective method of correction.
Step 3 – Meet a professional counsellor to get an exact assessment of the depth of the addiction. Some common therapies include individual, group, or family therapy sessions, behavior modification, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), art therapy, recreation therapy and so on.
A psychiatric evaluation is also solicited should there be an underlying condition of anxiety and depression to treat the illness via medication and therapy.
Step 4 – Physical activity is always a great idea as it increases the endorphin and serotonin levels in the body.
The author is a practising counsellor and a trainer.