The emergence of the internet and the daily use of smartphones, tablets, and personal computers has made maintaining a healthy balance with technology difficult. Staying connected on social media, participating in video calls at work, and responding to emails can make you feel like you need to constantly be “plugged in” to the internet. Not being connected to technology may make us feel as though we’re missing out on pertinent information. But research shows that excessively using the internet and internet-enabled devices can lead to an addiction to technology.
Technology addiction can cause:
- Disrupted sleep
- Social isolation
- Heightened attention-deficit symptoms
- Impaired emotional and social intelligence
Scientific research also shows that being addicted to technology can also affect our brain and cognitive health. The more we use technology, the more neurological changes take place in the brain. Studies show that these changes can be so substantial that technology addiction can be just as harmful as substance abuse addiction.
What Is Technology Addiction?
Technology addiction is a pattern of behavior characterized by a dependency on the internet and technology-enabled devices. Even though the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) doesn’t list technology addiction as a mental health disorder, people addicted to technology demonstrate an inability to control, regulate, or limit their use of the internet and technology, which is characteristic of behavioral addiction.
Like other behavioral addictions, technology addiction can have a negative impact on our academic performance, career, family, and social life. Being addicted to technology can cause us to:
- Experience sudden mood changes
- Obsessively focus on the internet and digital media
- Neglect our social, work, and school or professional lives
- Lose track of how much time we spend on the internet
- Feel like we need more time on the internet or a new game or device to be happy
- Experience withdrawal symptoms when not using the internet or technology
- Continue using the internet and technology even though it negatively affects our relations
Other signs of technology addiction can include:
- Getting less sleep due to technology or internet activities
- Compulsively checking text messages or notifications
- Losing interest in aspects of your life that don’t involve the internet or technology
- Feeling guilty or getting defensive about the time we spend online
- Turning to the internet or a technology-enabled device to improve your mood, experience pleasure, relief, or sexual gratification
- Trying but failing to cut back on internet or technology use
- Physical symptoms such as carpal tunnel syndrome, headaches, unexplained weight gain, vision changes, and back or neck aches
Types of Technology Addiction
Technology addiction can vary widely. Most people with an addiction to technology find the content consumed on the internet or via technology to be mood-enhancing or stimulating. This is what causes some of the changes in the brain’s reward center.
Some of the most common examples of technology addiction include:
- Excessive texting
- Online gambling
- Online auctions
- Compulsive web surfing
- Unrestricted video game playing
- Prolonged social media interaction
- Watching pornography
These addictions can range from moderate to severe. But all levels of technology addiction can impact the brain.
How Technology Impacts The Brain
Even though using technology isn’t the same as using drugs or alcohol, the brain processes both addictions the same way. Winning a level of a video game, getting “likes” on a picture, and gambling online releases dopamine, a feel-good chemical in the brain, just like drinking alcohol or using drugs does. Over time, we begin to crave this dopamine release, which compels us to use technology and internet-enabled devices even more. Unfortunately, this tricks the brain into thinking it doesn’t need to create and release dopamine naturally, which disrupts the brain’s delicate chemical balance.
Without enough dopamine, we tend to feel down, have trouble concentrating, and struggle to stay motivated. Naturally, we seek another dopamine release. The brain, which now identifies technology as a reliable way to release dopamine, signals us to spend even more time on the internet, increasing our risk of an internet addiction disorder.
Excessive use of the internet, smartphones, tablets, laptops, and video game consoles can also impact our minds by:
- Diminishing the amount of grey and white matter in the brain. The brain needs a healthy amount of grey and white matter to function well. White matter helps us think fast and focus well. Grey matter helps us process information and make good decisions. Excessive screen time can decrease these fatty tissues, making concentration, focus, problem-solving, and decision-making difficult.
- Disrupting the brain’s ability to differentiate day from night. The glowing light emitted by laptops, tablets, and smartphones tends to interfere with the brain and body’s internal light cues and sleep-inducing hormones. Constantly exposing ourselves to bright lights can make the brain think it’s still daytime when it’s actually night. This, of course, can make falling asleep difficult and can trigger disrupted sleep patterns and insomnia.
- Making the brain more susceptible to memory troubles. Neuroscientists have discovered that thanks to technology, we’re less likely to remember personal information such as a relative’s birthday or phone number. Misusing technology, spending excessive amounts of time online, and constantly staring at screens can shrink the cerebrum and hippocampus, which help regulate our reading, thinking, learning, recognition, and long-term memory.
- Negatively impacting our impulse control. Research shows a link between impulsivity and excessive technology consumption. Another study revealed that consistently playing video games can inhibit a player’s ability to control impulsive and aggressive behavior. Unfortunately losing control of our impulses can lead to other addictions, weight challenges, poor social skills, and other disorders.
Helping You Overcome Addiction
Technology is a major part of today’s world. Sadly, so is addiction. If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use, addiction, or other mental health challenges, our brain science-based treatment programs can help. Let us help you regain control. Contact us today to learn more.
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