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Young Adult and Teen Technology and Online Addiction

Research has found a significant correlation between overuse of technology, social media, and video games and higher rates of mental health issues, especially among young people.

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What is technology addiction?

A technology addiction is when a person’s technology habits become compulsive and disruptive enough to affect their ability to fulfill obligations or maintain relationships.

Also referred to as digital addiction or internet addiction disorder (IDD), technology addiction is more common than you might think due to easy access to the internet and technology devices. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting screen time to no more than two hours per day for teens, yet recent polls show that most teens clock over seven hours per day (excluding schoolwork). 

While smartphones and other forms of technology are part of living in a modern world, it’s important to recognize that a technology dependency can have a negative impact on a person’s mental health. Below are a few questions to help offer perspective on healthy technology habits versus a technology addiction.

  • Does your technology usage interfere with other important parts of your life, like school or relationships?
  • Do you feel like you’ve crossed the line from loving to use technology to having to use technology?
  • Are you resorting to technology to escape from other problems in your life?

Teenager looking at her phone addicted to technology

Types of technology addiction

Technology addiction is defined as an unhealthy dependency on a specific type of technology, and the type of addiction will vary person to person. Below are several common types of technology addictions.

  • Online gaming addiction. Video games and other forms of online gaming are popular with people of all ages across the country, but play can become problematic when a person becomes too preoccupied by the activity. 
  • Net compulsions. This category of addiction includes activities like online gambling, shopping, and stock trading. While these activities may start off harmless, they can lead to financial issues.
  • Online sex addiction. This can mean different things for different people, but online sex addiction usually involves online pornography, adult websites, adult chat rooms, and webcam services. An obsession with any of these services can be harmful to one’s ability to form sexual, romantic, or intimate relationships in real life. 

Other forms of technology addiction include social media, online shopping, and even texting.

Signs and symptoms of technology addiction

Below are potential signs and symptoms of a technology addiction in teens and young adults.

  • Preoccupation with technology and the internet
  • Using technology to relieve difficult emotions such as anxiety or guilt
  • Sadness, anxiety, or irritability when technology is taken away 
  • Unsuccessful attempts to quit or reduce time on the internet
  • Loss of interest in activities that were previously enjoyed
  • Continuing to use social media or technological devices despite problems associated with use, such as failed relationships or poor academic performance
  • Deceiving family and friends about the amount of time spent on the internet
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Sedentary lifestyle

Causes and risk factors

There’s no single cause of technology addiction, but experts believe it may stem from genetic and environmental factors. Examples of causes and risk factors include: 

  • Depression or anxiety 
  • Low self-esteem
  • A feeling of having been neglected
  • Using internet applications to manage moods
  • Chemical imbalances in the brain
  • Obsessive or compulsive tendencies
  • Loneliness

How technology addiction affects the brain

Similar to other behavioral addictions, technology addiction affects the brain’s reward system. Repeated technology use over time can cause the brain to produce large amounts of dopamine, the "feel-good" neurotransmitter that plays a role in how we experience pleasure. This process stimulates the brain receptors that drive the impulse to repeat addictive behaviors, such as playing games or online shopping. 

At first, a person’s body will continue to produce more dopamine with each experience. However, at a certain point, the brain starts to develop a tolerance to high levels of dopamine and the experience is no longer able to provide the same level of satisfaction and pleasure.

Teenage boy addicted to videogames getting a headache from staring at a screen

Treatment for technology addiction

If you think that you or someone you know might have a technology addiction, know that there are several ways to break the cycle—including the following simple steps which you can start today.

  • Set a timer. It’s easy to spend minutes, or even hours, online without even realizing how much time has passed. Help yourself to create healthy boundaries by setting a timer to  limit your time online.
  • Practice meditation and mindfulness. Techniques like yoga, meditation, and mindfulness are safe and accessible solutions for restoring your mental health and improving overall quality of life. Instead of reaching for your phone to scroll social media or logging into a video game, consider using that time for mindfulness. 
  • Suggest a bedroom “no-phone zone” Putting phones, tablets, or other gaming devices in a dresser drawer or a desk that is away from your bed can promote better sleep hygiene and a healthier balance with gaming, social media, or other uses of technology.

For those who might benefit from a higher level of mental health support, there are several proven methods for overcoming addictive behaviors.

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy that is used to help identify and change a person’s thoughts and behaviors. CBT is one of the most commonly used forms of therapy due to its effectiveness in treating a wide variety of mental health issues and addictions.
  • Family therapy. Family therapy is designed to bring loved ones together through evidence-based practices that foster healthy communication. For some people, this support system is crucial to helping them kick their addiction. Family therapy is designed to bring loved ones together through evidence-based practices that foster healthy communication.
  • Motivational interviewing. This evidence-based talk therapy uses structured interviews to help people explore their feelings while working toward a goal—such as limiting technology use. 

If you’re currently struggling to overcome a technology addiction, consider seeking help. Charlie Health’s team of compassionate mental health professionals are here to listen to your story, understand your needs, and match you with an appropriate treatment plan. Learn more today

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