• Technology Addiction: A Growing Problem
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    Technology Addiction: A Growing Problem

    The United States is behind other countries in both use and addiction treatment for technology. While Singapore boasts an 87 percent use of smartphone technology, the U.S. weighs in at only 65 percent. This is considered low, among the nations where treatment for technology addiction is rapidly growing.

    India is the latest nation to focus specifically on a treatment program for technology abuse and dependence. Other countries with programs devoted to this form of treatment include Taiwan, South Korea and China.

    The Primary Abusers

    Most technology addiction cases are reported by parents who are seeing the problem with their school-aged children. In some of these reports, children are reported to show signs of addictive behavior at 6 or 7 years old. Because parents witness the impact of technology abuse, as it affects their children’s schoolwork and interaction with family, parents are beginning to seek help.

    When a potential abuser or addict has their technology taken away, they begin to show symptoms that closely resemble withdrawal from other addictive behaviors and substances. They become both despondent and depressed, withdrawing from peers and family even further. They may also develop intense anxiety and show signs of trauma-related responses. In one reported case, a 13-year-old girl hanged herself when her mother terminated her Facebook account.

    China reported in 2007 that 13.7 percent of its young people, or 10 million citizens, had the symptoms of internet addiction disorder. Because of this, laws were enacted to implement a three-hour limit of daily use. However, this did not stop the problem as the country’s state TV broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) reports that 24 million Chinese youth are addicted to Internet use as of February 2014.

    Identifying Addiction

    Mark Griffiths, a British psychologist, has defined the criteria for Internet dependence. The following are five identifying components of this addiction:

    1.  “I have gone without eating or sleeping because of the Internet”
    2. “I have felt bothered when I cannot be on the Internet”
    3. “I have caught myself surfing when I am not really interested”
    4. “I have spent less time than I should with either family, friends or doing schoolwork because of the time I spent on the Internet”
    5. “I have tried unsuccessfully to spend less time on the Internet.”

    Most people can identify these symptoms in their use of the Internet daily, but few will see that all five are consistently present. As we become increasingly dependent on technology, identifying when we cross the invisible line into problematic use or addiction is a conundrum each individual has to answer for themselves.

    Treating Technology Addiction

    As with many other forms of addiction, such as eating disorders and sex addiction, complete abstinence may not be practical or beneficial to the addict. After all, some use of technology will be a necessary part of their ongoing life. Behaviors around technology must be carefully observed to determine what are problematic and acceptable for many addicts.

    Kimberly Young, a leading U.S. therapist who has been involved with Internet addiction disorder since 1995, uses Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) as the foundation of her treatment process. CBT has been used for treating many mood and personality disorders, along with depression and anxiety. As one of the most effective of evidence-based treatment protocols, CBT is used widely among mental health agencies and professionals, and is considered to be a standard of therapeutic interventions. This method of therapy includes a combination of thought and behavioral modifications or re-programming that is used to assist patients with problems in the “here-and-now.”

    While we, as a people, are just beginning to delve more deeply into the problem of technology addiction, we can only hope that more solutions may be developed as quickly as the technology that is creating the problem.

    Kelly McClanahan has an MSW in clinical social work and a CATC IV in addictions counseling. She teaches meditation and mindfulness, specializing in addiction and trauma. She also leads workshops and seminars on treatment of addictive disorders and stress reduction.

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