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How to recognize digital addiction and how to deal with it?

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Over 50 years ago, in 1969, the very first e-mail was sent at Stanford University from one of the scientific studies. This is when the digital era began, the era of development of new technologies, mobile digital devices, and artificial intelligence. A digital social change is taking place before our very eyes, and its unwanted “product” are not only digitally excluded persons, but also those who are addicted to new technologies.

According to the latest data presented by Data Reportal – Global Digital Insights, 84.5% of the Poles aged between 16 and 64 use the Internet (nearly 32 million Poles), whereas 68.5% of them have active social media accounts, which in most cases are installed on mobile devices (Digital in Poland: All the Statistics You Need in 2021 — DataReportal – Global Digital Insights).

The research results indicate that the Poles use the Internet six hours and three quarters a day on average, with full two hours spent on social media and over one hour a day reading online news and listening to music. Over the last year alone, the number of Polish Internet users has increased by 1.3 million (increase by 4.4% YoY) and social media users by 2.5 million people (increase by 10.5% YoY).

Source: We Are Social  Digital 2021: Poland report.

The dynamic development of computer technology and mobile communications as well as the increasing number of people using computers and networks, including social media, contribute to the rapid transformation of the labor market, politics, economy, or education, as well as result in an exponential rise in problems related to the misuse of network resources (cyberviolence, sexting, pathological content, and pornography on the Internet).

One of the negative consequences of the rapid technological development is also a rapid increase in the number of people showing signs of addiction to modern information and communications technologies.

What is addiction to new technologies?

Currently, there is no official name for this phenomenon. Terms such as phonoholism, netoholism, netaddiction, cyberaddiction, internetoholism, Internet dependence, infoholism, information dependence, and computer addiction can be found in specialist literature.

Therefore, it appears that the expression

addiction to using modern information and communications technologies

albeit long and not very catchy, offers a wide range of opportunities and captures the problem in many aspects.

What are the most crucial symptoms related to addiction to new technologies? Before we answer this question, three important features of our brain are worth mentioning here. 

  1. Firstly, our brain loves gaining new information about the micro- and macroenvironment (in the times of early men, the more information you gained, the higher your chances of surviving were). 
  2. Secondly, using new technologies gives our brain pleasure, and when we are using the Internet and mobile phones or we are playing digital games, dopamine stimulating our reward system is released.
  3. Thirdly, it should be added that our brain loves accumulating energy reserves that can be used in difficult times for the human body. It turns out that the smallest amount of energy is burned in our body when we do something habitually, automatically, and without reflecting on it. The road from a strong habit to the loss of control over our actions is very simple.

Symptoms of addiction to new technologies

An addictive disorder concerning the use of digital screen devices and the Internet can be identified by paying attention to several symptoms which are as follows:

1. inability to resist pulses pushing to evince a particular behavior (compulsion related to, for instance, playing computer games persistently),

2. increasing tension appearing just right before the behavior starts (tension is related to the noticeable release of dopamine in the brain),

3. pleasure and relief experienced during the behavior (the relief mainly refers to the reduction in compulsion),

4. sense of losing control during the behavior (in most cases, it manifests itself in the loss of control over the time spent on using new technologies),

fulfillment of the following criteria: 

  • repetitive ineffective attempts to restrict, control or cease behavior,
  • increase in tolerance: the need to increase the intensity or frequency of behavior in order to achieve the desired effect or the reduction in the severity of the dosage caused by behaviors of the same intensity as before, 
  • anxiety or nervousness in a situation preventing us from evincing behavior: some components of the syndrome last longer than one month or are repeated over a longer period

(after: Lelonek-Kuleta B., (2012). Uzależnienie od czynności – zdefiniowanie pojęcia, specyfika problemu oraz kierunki diagnoz. „Serwis informacyjny NARKOMANIA”, National Bureau for Drug Prevention, 1 (57), p. 13-18.)

How to cope with addiction to new technologies?

1. Control the time spent on using new technologies: you can do so by creating your own rules for using a mobile phone or the Internet. For this purpose, you can also use various types of applications that control and report what you do on the Internet. 

2. Build an alternative to the digital world: the problem of abusing new technologies begins when the digital world is the only world available to you. A passion, hobby, or interest outside the network will counterbalance your online presence.

3. Take care of direct relations with your loved ones: as it turns out, good relations with others are the best factor protecting us against entering into any problem, including the problem of online addictions.  

4. If necessary, seek support from specialists: use a very professional portal on which you can find not only addresses of addiction therapy specialists, but also professional studies on Internet addiction and other behavioral addictions of Behavioral addictions.

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