What is Internet and Technology Addiction?
Technology addiction is a compulsive need to spend excessive amounts of time engaged in online activities such that other important areas of life (e.g., work, friendships etc.) are neglected. Current estimates of the prevalence of internet addiction are highly varied but it is thought that approximately 6-8% of individuals may experience problematic internet usage, with some estimates as high as 40%. Studies have shown that teenagers and young people are particularly vulnerable to developing technology addiction, as are individuals who are suffering from another mental health condition (e.g., anxiety, depression) or who have experienced isolation or significant changes in lifestyle (e.g., moving house, having children).
Signs that you may have a problem include:
- Difficulty with sticking to limits you set for yourself on the use of technology or losing track of time while using the internet e.g., intending to surf the net for 5-10 minutes and then feeling surprised an hour later that you are still logged on.
- Spending excessive amounts of time online such that other important life tasks are neglected e.g., no longer spending time with friends because you would prefer to be online, not meeting deadlines at work because you are constantly on the net, not doing regular essential household chores because all your spare time is dedicated to being online.
- Changes in mood when not engaged with technology e.g., an increase in irritability or decrease in mood when you are not logged on to social media.
- A marked increase in distress or anxiety at the thought of not being able to go online e.g., if the thought of going for half a day without the internet is unbearable
- When other people think it is a problem. If your partner, parents or friends are constantly complaining that you spend too much time on the internet then it may be time to consider making changes to your internet behaviour.
Why do people become addicted to the internet and technology?
At present there are a number of theories outlining why people may become addicted to the internet and technology including the following:
There is some evidence to suggest that the reward centre in the brain may be activated when we use technology, resulting in ‘feel-good’ chemicals being released into the brain. Studies have shown that a higher level of these chemicals is released when we share personal information with others than when we talk about other topics. This may be one reason why the internet is so popular.
Managing unpleasant feelings
The internet provides opportunities to escape from the demands and difficulties of everyday life including the unpleasant feelings that are a normal part of being human e.g., anxiety, loneliness, depression, stress and boredom. Using the internet also allows us to waste time and procrastinate from completing difficult or unpleasant tasks, allowing further avoidance of unpleasant feelings.
The internet presents many opportunities to establish new relationships and increase a person’s confidence in relating to others without the usual added social pressures. It allows an individual to present themselves however they choose and to be in control of their own image. The internet also presents an opportunity for people who are concerned about how others evaluate them to get real life feedback about others’ perceptions of them. This feedback also allows people to experience a sense of significance as others demonstrate interest in their opinions, interests, talents and daily activities.
What treatment is available?
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) has been shown to be effective in treating internet and technology addiction. As there are a number of underlying causes for internet addiction, treatment will involve a comprehensive assessment which will enable your therapist to understand the factors that have contributed to your difficulties and to tailor the treatment approach to their specific needs. Treatment will most likely include a combination of the following strategies:
This strategy will help you to evaluate unhelpful thoughts or beliefs which may be maintaining the addictive behaviours. Examples of such thoughts include “If I don’t go online I’ll feel anxious all day and won’t get anything done”, “If I don’t respond to a comment people will think I’m ignoring them”, and “If I don’t get enough likes then I’m not a good enough person”.
These include setting achievable behavioural goals in relation to internet usage and making changes to unhelpful behaviours such as reducing the frequency of checking or logging on. Additional strategies that break the pattern of behaviour such as changing the schedule of internet usage and using “stoppers” (i.e., activities that enforce limits on internet use) are also discussed.
Often, as internet usage becomes more problematic, other interests and relationships are neglected or fail to develop as would be expected. Therapy will assist you to evaluate how internet addiction has monopolised your time and what other activities, interests, or relationships have been neglected as a result. Therapy will involve setting goals to re-engage in old interests that have been neglected and/or to develop new interests separate from technology and to assist you to live more in line with your values.
Managing Difficult Feelings
Therapy will involve teaching you alternative and more adaptive strategies for managing your emotional experiences so that you do not need to turn to technology to improve your mood or reduce feelings of anxiety or stress.
Treatment for other conditions
Other mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and procrastination can leave you vulnerable to developing problematic internet usage behaviour. If additional mental health difficulties are identified cognitive-behavioural interventions can be used to effectively treat these difficulties and reduce vulnerability to technology addiction.
If you would like to find out more about our treatment for internet or technology addiction or to book an appointment with one of our clinical psychologists who provides treatment for this condition, please email or call the clinic on 02 9438 2511.