Technology Addiction: A Psychological Disorder in the making?

A recent article published on Daily Mirror spoke about the need for the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) (V) to categorize Technology Addiction as a psychological disorder. It provided opinions of a lecturer, a licensed psychologist and readers, where they voiced their view on why they believe it is important for the DSM-V to recognize Technology Addiction.

Over the years, technology has become a crucial part in the day-to-day activities of the modern human. Some attribute network effect (i.e. subsequent increase in the value of a good or service with the increase in the number of users) as a factor that lead to the high usage among individuals. This increased value is being further reinforced with the constant dissemination and receipt of information among users.

What is Technology Addiction?

However, just as there is a difference between a person who lights a matchstick to make a campfire and an arsonist, there is a rising concern regarding those who excessively use technology. The word “excessive” used here refers to the addictive behavior linked when using technology, which is often referred to as Technology Addiction (other words commonly used to refer this are internet Addiction and Social Media Addiction). According to Lin et al. technology addiction is “an individual’s inability to control his or her use of the Internet, which may eventually result in marked distress and functional impairments of general life such as academic performance, social interaction, occupational interest and behavioral problems”.

A point of clarification that needs to be provided to Technology Addiction is that it is an exhaustive term that covers a wide area, therefore will include addictive behavior towards; video gaming, online shopping, online auctions, or excessive use of social media or smartphones. Baumer et al. found that the factors that affect users to continuously use Facebook (the social media platform tested through the research) are perceived addiction, and privacy and surveillance. According to Addiction.com, the cause of technology addiction as a combination of Mental health history, Personality and Environment.

Is Technology Addiction a Psychological Disorder?

With over 4 million active internet users in Sri Lanka, it is crucial to create awareness regarding Technology Addiction among these users. However, in Sri Lanka a public dialogue regarding mental illness is a very rare act, which has been a longstanding problem for the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).  According to NIMH statistics in 2013, one out of every five Sri Lankans suffer from a mental illness, while only 20% seek treatment.

The article published on Daily Mirror stated that the main role of social media is to act as a platform to seek pleasure, which will subsequently lead to de-individualization. It further stated that it acts as a reward system, and as result users should seek detach themselves from technology. Readers further explored their experiences and opinions regarding the negative consequences they have faced due to Technology Addiction.

A point of reference that would be particularly important to have a discerned view regarding this, is the definition of a psychological disorder. According to Psychology Today, a psychology disorder is a “psychological dysfunction in an individual that is associated with distress or impairment and a reaction that is not culturally expected”. The website further emphasizes the use of 3D’s to identify if something is a symptom of a disorder, they are; “Is it psychologically dysfunctional? Is it distressing or handicapping to the individual or others? Is it associated with a response that is atypical or deviant?”

To categorize or not

When looking at research done in this field an article that covers a considerable area regarding the practicality of linking Internet addiction to clinical addiction is Cash et al.’s ‘Internet Addiction: A Brief Summary of Research and Practice’. In their work they have identified through clinical observations and controlled studies that behavior embedded in Internet Addiction overlaps that behavior that is commonly associated with behavioral Addiction defined by American Society of Addiction Medicine. They further stated that, despite this observation, their research work cannot entirely establish whether the addiction is purely a behavioural addiction or a symptom of an impulse-control disorder or an obsessive compulsive disorder.

In Dr.Pies article on ‘Should DSM-V Designate “Internet Addiction” a Mental Disorder?’, he explores a deferring view to that of Cash et al. He finds that internet addiction does not meet the threshold of a discrete disorder or a disease due to the lack of extensive clinical research regarding this. He further suggests the use of the term Pathological Use of Electronic Media (PUEM), instead of Internet addiction as it encompasses a wider area of psychiatric diagnosis than Internet Addiction. He further points out that, if the need arises for PUEM to be included in the DSM-V, it should only be included in the appendix as “condition for further study.”

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Source: Should DSM-V Designate “Internet Addiction” a Mental Disorder? by Dr. Roland Pies

Should we avoid using technology?

As J.R.R. Tolkien’s quote of “Not all those who wander are lost”, not all those who use technology are addicted. We are in the age of technology, and this requires us to constantly interact with technology at work, at home and even in your own vehicle. Therefore, completely discontinuing the use of technology is not a practical approach; this is where moderation steps in.  Hallowell states that instead of being anti-technology, moderation is the recommended approach to reducing the use of technology.

Before we understand the possible steps that can be taken to reduce technology use and improve your experience with technology, let’s look at the symptoms or indicators of Technology addiction. According Addiction.com, the following are the recognizable symptoms of Technology addiction;

  • A sense of euphoria while plugged in
  • Neglecting friends and family
  • Skimping on sleep
  • Dishonesty about usage
  • Feeling anxious, ashamed, guilty or depressed as a result of technology use
  • Withdrawing from other activities that were once pleasurable

While the following physical symptoms are recognized among those who are addicted to Technology;

  • Weight gain or weight loss
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Headaches
  • Neck or backaches
  • Dry, red eyes

So what can you do to reduce your addiction? WebMD looks at seven things that were suggested by Tim Ferriss to reduce technology use. They are;

  • You can begin with short experimental periods of inaccessibility.
  • Leave your phone or electronic device at home one day of the week.
  • Set a “not-to-do list”; for example you can have specified times to check your email or phone.
  • Reduce using tools such as RSS feeds that encourage this addictive behavior.
  • As previously mentioned, learn moderation, you shouldn’t completely cut-off your access to technology, just have control over your usage.
  • Get the assistance from your colleagues, friends or family on this journey of recovery.

Technology has proven its use in all aspects of human life from communication to health and education, its impact is of large proportions. However, misuse by overuse can have adverse effects on your health as well as your social life, therefore it is necessary for us to understand the benefits that we can reap using technology while limiting ourselves from assuming an addictive behavior.  

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