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How to Help Teens with Technology Addiction

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The parent of any teen knows that most of the time you can find them on some type of electronic device from cell phones to laptops and anything in between. However, do you know how to recognize when the use of technology goes from being a ‘bad habit’ to a full-fledged problem? 

Technology addiction is a term that is being used more and more today however it is not yet officially recognized in the Diagnostics and Statistical Manual-V (DSM-V) published in 2013. The manual does mention Internet Gaming Disorder but only as a condition in need of further study. And while the research into determining if technology addiction is real is in its infancy, one thing remains clear, the trends reveal problems with technology use particularly amongst teens. 

In a Pew Research Survey in 2018, 45% of teens said they used the internet ‘almost constantly’. Even more startling, is that this was double the number from the 2014-2015 survey. This 2018 survey also revealed that 97% of boys said they play video games. 

There’s no doubt, teens today are on technology most of the time. But when does it become a problem? Many parents are asking themselves this almost daily. If your teen exhibits any of these signs he or she may have an unhealthy dependence on technology. 

Signs of Technology Addiction or Dependence

Technology addiction is defined as frequent and obsessive technology-related behaviors that continue despite negative consequences. These behaviors cause problems in the user’s life and can include and lead to depression, social isolation, and anxiety disorders. 

The use of technology fills certain needs. Stimulation, interaction, serving as a social outlet, stops boredom, promotes escape from reality, and entertainment are all needs that technology can fulfill. Often, teens turn to technology as a way to cope with or avoid uneasy or uncomfortable feelings. Much in the same way that someone may turn to alcohol to help ‘take the edge off’. The pleasure centers of the brain are impacted by technology in similar ways as substances impact these centers. 

Since technology can serve to fill these needs, it can become addictive if other ways to meet these needs aren’t in place. However, even when there are other means to meet these needs, teens may choose technology as it is easier and often the most common way their peers cope. 

Just as with other types of addiction and dependencies, symptoms often manifest as both physical and emotional signs. This is true for technology addiction or dependency too. 

Emotional Signs of Technology Addiction in Teens

  • Lying
  • Feeling Guilty
  • Isolating
  • Avoidance of work and school
  • Defensiveness
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Agitation
  • Moodiness
  • Loneliness
  • Boredom when not on the computer
  • Elation and feelings of euphoria when on the computer

Physical Signs of Technology Addiction in Teens

  • Headaches 
  • Insomnia
  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
  • Back pain
  • Poor nutrition
  • Neck pain
  • Dry eyes or vision issues
  • Underweight or overweight 

Technology addiction is considered to be a process addiction. Process addictions or behavioral addictions are described as compulsions to repeatedly engage in certain behaviors despite negative consequences to that person’s life. Other process addictions include:

  • Binge eating
  • Shopping
  • Having sex
  • Gambling 
  • Playing video games
  • And more

Typically, addiction is associated with the use and abuse of alcohol or another substance. This makes it somewhat tricky when it comes to understanding how addictive technology can be. Many well meaning parents look away from excessive technology use as it seems hard to grasp that their child could actually be ‘addicted’ to the technology they are using.

In addition, our society has now come to use technology for just about everything. We have revered the amazing benefits of technology so to now admit that this great resource and tool may be causing issues takes a new perspective to see. 

But despite all of this technology addictions are not only really but are on the rise. Those who find themselves addicted to technology often experience some of the same negative consequences and engage in the same destructive behaviors as those with an alcohol use disorder (AUD) or a substance use disorder (SUD). 

From lying and stealing to issues with personal relationships, work, school, and finances, addiction to technology can cause major issues in the lives of not only the individual with the problem but also for the family and friends of these technology users. 

If you suspect that your loved one may have a technology addiction there is help. Just as with addictions of any kind taking the first step is often the most difficult. There are some treatment centers in the United States and other countries that address technology addictions. However, it’s imperative—as treatment for this type of addiction is in its infancy—to find a center that is well-equipped to treat not only technology addiction but also any additional or underlying causes such as mental health issues. 

As mentioned, it is not uncommon for those with technology addiction issues to become depressed, anxious, and isolated. Seeking treatment for any and all co-occurring issues is imperative for the best shot at long-term recovery from any addiction, including a technology addiction. 

Diagnosis and Treatment of Technology Addictions

While technology addiction isn’t an official diagnosis in the DSM-V, clinicians are finding ways to diagnose this often serious, life-robbing addiction. An article from 2005 by KW Beard published in Cyberpsychology and Behavior journal listed certain criteria as a way to diagnose an Internet Addiction Disorder. Here are the criteria discussed being used by certain professionals today:

  • Staying online longer than planned
  • Being preoccupied with the internet
  • Thinking about being on the internet when not on it
  • Needing to use the internet more often to gain same sense of satisfaction
  • Being unsuccessful at cutting down or stopping use of the internet
  • Becoming moody, restless, irritable when not on internet or when trying to cut down on usage
  • Lying about internet usage
  • Damaging family, job, school, or other close personal relationships due to internet usage
  • Using the internet as a way to escape or avoid facing issues 

If your loved one is showing any of these signs and symptoms of technology addiction you’ll want to consider getting a professional evaluation. There are three tools used to help diagnose an issue with internet use. These are Young’s Internet Addiction Test, the Problematic Internet Use Questionnaire (PIUQ), and the Compulsive Internet Use Scale (CIUS). 

Getting help for an internet use issue begins with determining if there is a problem. Once it has been determined that there is, the next step is treatment. Some therapists believe that most often when it comes to an Internet addiction, there are underlying depression or anxiety disorder issues. For this reason, medication is sometimes used in conjunction with therapy to treat technology addiction. 

Therapy programs used to treat other types of addictions, such as AUD or SUD, have also been found to be successful in treating Internet addictions. These include:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Family or group therapy
  • Dialectical-behavioral therapy (DBT)
  • Behavior modification
  • Equine therapy
  • Art therapy
  • Adventure therapy
  • Experiential therapy

If you or someone you care about is exhibiting signs of an Internet or technology addiction there is help. While this disorder is relatively new, there are already cases in which those addicted to the Internet or technology sought help and found recovery from this disorder or addiction.

As professionals continue to debate whether or not this is an actual addiction more and more teens and families struggle with what is healthy and acceptable technology usage and what crosses the line. 

Futures aims to help all members of the community who are in need of addiction treatment. If you are in need of mental health treatment or treatment for an AUD or SUD, Futures can help. Call us today at 866-804-2098.

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