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Electronic Addiction – The New "Drug" of Choice

09/03/2013 05:32 ● Published by Sandy Kauten

Have you ever noticed how easy it is to lose track of time while surfing the internet or playing a favorite app on your iPad?  Have you ever put off going somewhere, finishing your homework, or completing a project in favor of visiting one more website or social media look?  If so, you're not alone. 

According to a 2011 survey performed by Ipsos Media, roughly 78% of Americans spend at least 30 hours per week engaged with electronics, and the number increases to 40 hours per week for the 18-29 age demographic.  Today, the average North American consumes about 12 hours of media a day – from TV, the Internet, email, and cell phones. That’s three times as much information as we consumed in the 1960’s. Those numbers are staggering!  Imagine how much more work we’d get done, how much homework, or time at the gym?  Imagine spending time hanging with friend face-to-face… imagine what we could DO without all this internet interference!  We're talking about some serious time spent being “connected”, whether it’s via computer, cell phone, iPad, X-Box, or some other electronic device.

This relatively new phenomenon is called internet addiction disorder – and to help individuals combat it, there is now a Center for Online Addiction and a variety of other computer addiction treatment centers around the globe.

The Science

Computer addiction is just like any other addiction.  It's caused by a chemical response in the brain when dopamine is mass produced, increasing the desire to repeat a behavior that results in a "rush."  Given that repeating this behavior results in repeated overstimulation of the brain through the introduction of new information, images, games, etc., the result is often a decreased attention span as the individual craves that constant introduction of new information. This makes it difficult to control other behaviors as the “need for stimulation” takes over – resulting in a full-blown addiction.

The Signs

Some people are more susceptible to addictive tendencies than others, and children and teenagers are most at risk because they lack the maturity (and discipline) to make good judgments regarding their behavior. Computer addiction is perhaps one of the most insidious addictions because the “source” can be found practically any/everywhere, at any time of the day or night, and gratification is always instantaneous. Imagine how prevalent alcoholism or drug abuse would be if it could be done within plain sight of everyone, could be found with practically no effort, and were free?

In most cases Internet addiction is the result of an underlying problem like anxiety or depression, or it might be just another addiction in a long line of addictive patterns of behavior.  Children or teenagers typically replace real-life friends with online "friends." They often mistake online popularity for real-life friendships.  Exceptionally shy children sometimes use the Internet to find their “voices”.  They like the pretend world they’ve masterfully created, but because no ‘real’ changes occur in that world, they require more and more Internet time to feel good about themselves, or to immerse themselves in their new personas.  There are warning signs though…

6 Signs of Computer Addiction

  • Excessive time spent on the Internet
  • Disconnecting/withdrawing from friends and family and increasing time spent online
  • Falling behind on schoolwork, or lack of interest in activities or employment
  • Hiding the amount of time spent online from family and friends
  • Feeling happy ONLY when surfing the Net or interacting with others via social media
  • Feeling anxious or stressed out when online or until you can get online

Due to the fact that computers are used to entertain infants and toddlers, doctors are seeing a new crop of addicted people emerge – the computer addicted toddler.  Computer addicted toddlers and elementary aged children have been raised with nearly constant stimulation from Smartphones, iPads, or computers and crave the excessive stimulation like a drug addict looking for the next fix.  They have short attention spans, are impatient, and lack the maturity and experience to understand and accept situations where delayed gratification exists.

Some Physical and Emotional Dangers of Computer Addiction

Eye Problems: Computer Vision Syndrome

The National Eye Institute published a study in the Archives of Ophthalmology and found that myopia (nearsightedness) has almost doubled among Americans over the last 30 years.  It increased from 25 percent to 41.6 percent.  And adults with "12 or more years of formal education" have seen an increase as high as 59.8 percent. This is of course due to the amount of computer use associated with white collar employment.

Wrist/Hand Problems: Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

It has long been believed that excessive computer use is the precursor to carpal tunnel syndrome.  Sitting for hours in front of any type of screen, using a mouse, keyboard, gaming controllers, etc. is bad for anyone. Note: Excessive texting is often a culprit and medical professionals are seeing a rise in the number of young adults being treated for texting related injuries as its popularity continues to grow.

Attention Deficit

Children used to be taught to have patience and wait their turn.  Computers have reduced the amount of time it takes to think up a problem or question and receive the answer.  With answers available almost instantaneously and information at our fingertips 24 hours a day, children are instead learning impatience. They can be constantly stimulated with movies, videos, live feeds, social media outlets and more.  Within seconds of thinking up the name of a book, or movie…Poof!  There it is.        

Depression

Many people plagued with Internet addictions already have signs of depression. They often use the Internet as an escape mechanism to disappear from their reality into an ideal fantasy world. Children typically use pretend play to change an uncomfortable reality and the internet has put any number of alternate realities within instant reach with just a few clicks. New personas can be created via chats, blogs, social media sites, and more. On the flip side, addicted individuals who recognize their coping mechanism may become more depressed if they are unable to break the hold the addiction has on them.

Inappropriate Content

The internet is so full of inappropriate content that it is often difficult to escape it.  Addictive personalities can find their vices within seconds online; be it gambling, cheating via an online relationship, compulsive shopping via online auctions, or the more traditional inappropriate computer content sources – it's within easy reach. 

Some Solutions

First and foremost, individuals should recognize electronic addiction is an addiction just like any other.  It is a relatively new and emerging field for professionals and they do not have decades of research to fall back on – likewise there has never been this many potential patients at one time.   If you’re not sure whether you’re addicted, there’s a test on "NetAddiction.com". Here are some of the questions:

  • How often do you stay online longer than you intended?
  • How often do you neglect other things in your life to spend more time online?
  • Do you often form relationships with other users?
  • Do you find yourself snapping at people who bother you while you’re online?

If you think you might have a problem, or know someone who does, log on to "Net Addiction.com" or pick up the book "Caught In The Net" by Kimberly Young.

As with any other addiction, the underlying problem leading to the addiction needs to be addressed first.  Seek the help of professionals in your community.  Even though this is a new problem, help is out there.  If you are unable to make changes on your own – use the Internet as a tool to find a group or professional to assist with getting to the root of the problem and address the disorder in a step-by-step manner.

The computer is a tool.  It should be used as such, and then put away – like any other tool.  No one should be tethered to a computer or device – physically or emotionally.  Don't be afraid to pull the plug.

10 Ways to Counteract Computer Addiction

  1. Parents should model healthy Internet/Computer habits  (including iPads, Smartphones and Tablets)
  2. Be realistic – Gradually wean your child from excessive computer use by setting a timer, making usage an earned privilege, etc.
  3. Make access to all devices contingent on behavior, passing grades, activity attendance, etc.
  4. Limit use to a set number of hours per day, week or month
  5. Strictly monitor computer/device usage
  6. Set up parental controls on devices to block/allow access during designated  time periods
  7. Swap internet use for time with for time with friends, a new sport or activity, or a new hobby
  8. Set goals and be patient as it will take time to replace unhealthy behavior with new practices
  9. Reward yourself with something positive as you begin seeing results
  10. Seek professional help if unable to make changes on your own
Teens & Tweens, Parenting, In Print, Today, Today depression attention deficit computer addiction electronics carpal tunnel september 2013
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