Technology addiction is the topic of much debate in recent years. From the rise of smart phones, to kids and video games, it seems that many scientists are concerned about modern society and our inability to break from our various devices. This leads many to wonder, is it really possible to be addicted to technology? Is a technology addiction the same as a drug addiction? Most importantly, could one lead to the other? Initial research on technology addiction suggest that the two are very much the same when it comes to behaviors, triggers, and underlying causes. Yet, it still seems so different. So, can technology addiction become drug addiction?

What is Technology Addiction?

Just as the name suggest, a technology addiction is an unhealthy reliance on technology, and compulsive behavior toward it. A person who suffers from a technology addiction may find extreme psychological and emotional relief from scrolling through social media or diving into a video game.

There are several types of compulsive behaviors associated with technology addictions. A few such examples include:

  • A need to escape: Modern technology is incredibly immersive, and a person who feels a compulsive need to escape their own reality can easily get sucked in. Playing a video game, watching a compelling TV show, or even just falling into a “scroll-hole”- where a person mindlessly scrolls through a social media feed- provides them the escape they are seeking.
  • A need for validation: Technology has provided an interesting new reality. Users now have access to others all over the world in an instant. While that connection could be considered a good thing, it also can become a compulsion. People can begin to depend on the attention- the comments, likes, compliments- as a form of self-worth. When they have it, they feel a “high”, and when they don’t, a crash.
  • A need for entertainment: Technology is a great entertainer. From movies, TV, games, clickbait articles and breaking news there is never a shortage of ways to entertain yourself on the internet. However, when a person starts to become dependent on something outside of themselves for happiness, that can become a huge problem.
  • A need to feel needed: Outside of TV and games, another way technology has advanced is by allowing people to be reachable at all times. A big example of this is workers who can’t or won’t stop working after the “workday” is finished. This can be dangerous in itself because heightened stress levels can actually lower the immune system and cause disease. However, there is another reason that it can be harmful. Some people need to be needed, so much so that it can actually severely impact mental health. For those people, it can feel impossible to do something as simple as not answer the phone for their employer, even when it costs them their valuable downtime.

The Intersection of Technology and Drug Addiction

Reading the ways in which people become addicted to technology, it may seem clear how that can cross over into substance abuse. For those with an addictive personality type, the “what” doesn’t matter so much as the “why”. All addictions are compelled by the same thing- a need to avoid, or control, the users emotional state. When a person develops a reliance on something outside of themselves to provide them feelings of comfort, happiness, peace, and ease that they feel incapable of experiencing otherwise it can easily become a compulsion.

What would happen, then, if a person who had become addicted to technology, lost the ability to rely on it? Likely the same thing that would happen to a person addicted to alcohol who could no longer drink. The feelings that they have been avoiding or trying to control by escaping into technology would become overwhelming, until they were forced to either find another way to escape them or face them. Unfortunately, in most cases, the individual will turn to another substance to depend on. Without emotional and mental intervention- such as treatment- few people addicted to anything will choose or be able to simply face the problems driving their behaviors. In fact, many people may not even know why they do it.

Preventing a Cross Addiction

So, what is the solution to ensure that using technology doesn’t become an addiction, or that if it already has, it doesn’t transfer into an addiction to something else? The steps include:

  • Awareness: Everyone uses technology, and in fact, it has become almost a requirement for living in a modern world. Almost any job you work will require you to access the internet, or check email. Even getting a job will require a phone or email. So, in the absence of being able to avoid technology, it becomes important to be able to recognize when technology is becoming a problem. If you notice that checking your social media gives you validation that you feel you can’t get without it, that may be a sign of a budding problem. If you find yourself trying to escape your life through movies, tv or video game, this could indicate an addiction. Recognizing the signs of an addiction may help you to break bad habits before they become too big to address on your own.
  • Prevention: There are preventative actions that can be taken to ensure technology doesn’t become an addiction. Things like not checking emails outside of work, or limiting the amount of time you spend playing games or watching TV can help you ensure that you don’t end up becoming reliant on technology. Additionally, if you notice that you feel that you need social media to feel happy about your life, take a break from it. Deactivate your account and allow yourself some time away from the digital world, and more time in the real one.
  • Treatment: If you’ve found yourself addicted to technology and don’t know what to do, seek treatment. There are certain types of addictions that are formed in situations where complete abstinence is not realistic. These types of addictions- such as love addictions, or food addictions- are based on treating compulsions and underlying reasons for overuse to form new and healthier relationships with these things. This is similar to how a technology addiction can be treated.

The truth is that addiction is equally as damaging regardless of what you become addicted to, and once an addiction has formed it can easily transfer from one thing to another. If you feel that you are suffering from an addiction, help is available. Talk to a doctor, therapist, treatment specialist or trusted loved to start the process of treating the problem. There is life after addiction, but more importantly, there is the possibility for a happy life after addiction.