Behavioral addictions are well known to our society and on the rise. We are all familiar with alcohol, gambling, kleptomania and drugs but people can also have compulsive habits of exercise, shopping or eating disorders. Internet related behavioral additions are now commonly recognized as well. Behavioral addictions produce short-term rewards that trigger persistent behavior with loss of impulse control, despite the persons’s knowledge of adverse consequences Engagement in these repetitive behaviors can ultimately interfere with individuals health, finances and/or relationships.
The American Psychiatric Association in 2013 officially classified behavioral addictions as a mental disorder. (2) According to Jon Grant in his Introduction to Behavioral Addictions, “evidence suggests that behavioral addictions resemble substance addictions in many domains, including natural history, phenomenology, tolerance, comorbidity, overlapping genetic contribution, neurobiological mechanisms, and response to treatment,” (1)
Dr. Robert Lustig in his new book The Hacking of the American Mind: The Science Behind the Corporate Takeover of Our Bodies and Brains (2017) describes in detail the neuroscience behind addiction and contentment. He underscores deliberate industry tactics to addict us to unhealthy lifestyles. As a pediatric endocrinologist and UCSF Professor Emeritus, Dr. Lustig is best known for his work on identifying and preventing obesity in children by examining their addiction to sugary beverages. He now puts cell phones in the same category as sodas in their addictive nature. His book helps define the difference between pleasure with short term rewards and happiness with long term contentment. Dr. Lustig adds much needed enlightenment to the growing problem of addiction.
Hooked: Internet, Gaming and Social Media Addictions
Researchers are showing similar pathophysiologic changes in those with internet related behavioral addictions and substance addictions. Studies show that Internet addiction symptoms include loss of interests, decreased psychosocial functioning, social retreat, and heightened psychosocial distress. It is estimated that in 2012, more than one billion individuals played computer games. Online gaming is lucrative creating a market of about $12 billion in China alone in 2013. These games include the popular “World of Warcraft”.
The prevalence of Internet gaming addiction varies from 0.2% in Germany to 50% of Korean teenagers depending on how the studies are performed. Tech Addiction Statistics A 2006 Stanford study showed that one in eight Americans had at least one sign of “problematic internet use”. The lead author, Elias Aboujaoude, MD. states, “We often focus on how wonderful the Internet is – how simple and efficient it can make things, but we need to consider the fact that it creates real problems for a subset of people.” (5) 1 in 8 Americans with Problematic Internet Use
Digital Detox: Rehabilitation for Internet Related Addictions
Because of the rise in internet related addictions many countries have established both inpatient and outpatient treatment centers with professional guidance and cognitive-behavioral therapy programs; these include South-East Asia, the United States and Europe. (4) Japan and China have “fasting camps” where individuals are cut off completely from technology. “Electronic Heroin” China’s Boot Camps for Internet Addicts In the United states the reSTART program in Seattle treats those with addiction to internet, virtual reality, social media and video gaming. They state that one should “Connect With Life, Not Your Device”.
At the Bradford Regional Medical Center in Pennsylvania Psychologist Kimberly Young runs an inpatient “10 day Digital Detox” program. Using cognitive therapy with educational classes they teach people new coping mechanisms when they enter the “real world”, understanding that it is difficult for people to have total abstinence from the internet.
Bradford Regional Medical Center Internet Rehabilitation Center
Child and adult psychiatrist Dr. Victoria Dunckley has written a thorough guidebook, Reset Your Child’s Brain, for parents to help them recognize symptoms of digital overuse and address this issue in their own homes.
Irresistible: Addiction by Design
The tech world is aware of the issue of internet related addictions as this is built into their technology. Books such as Irresistible, by Adam Alter, and Screen Schooled, by Joe Clement and Matt Miles, highlight these addictive techniques. Physicians, psychologists and scientists are beginning to consider internet related disorders as public health problem. Below are more references and information.
1) Introduction to Behavioral Addictions. Jon E. Grant, (2010) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3164585/
2) Non-substance addictive behaviors in the context of DSM-5. (2014) Marc N. Potenza, MD, PhD. Addict Behav. 2014 Jan; 39(1): 10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3858502/
3) Internet gaming addiction: current perspectives. (2013) Daria J Kuss. Psychol Res Behav Manag. 2013; 6: 125–137. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3832462/
4) Treatment outcomes in patients with internet addiction: a clinical pilot study on the effects of a cognitive-behavioral therapy program. (2014) Wölfling K. Biomed Res Int. 2014;2014:425924
5) Internet addiction: Stanford study seeks to define whether it’s a problem.( 2006) https://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2006/10/internet-addiction-stanford-study-seeks-to-define-whether-its-a-problem.html
6) Prevalence and Predictors of Video Game Addiction: A Study Based on a National Representative Sample of Gamers. (2016) Wittek et al. . Int J Ment Health Addict. 2016; 14(5): 672–686. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5023737/
In an interview with former Google product manager, Tristan Harris, 60 Minutes explores how Silicon Valley has been engineering your phone, apps and social media to get you hooked. Tristan Harris states in the interview “Well every time I check my phone, I’m playing the slot machine to see, “What did I get?” This is one way to hijack people’s minds and create a habit, to form a habit. What you do is you make it so when someone pulls a lever, sometimes they get a reward, an exciting reward. And it turns out that this design technique can be embedded inside of all these products.
Internet addiction changes brain similar to cocaine: Study
This study examines the physiologic and structural brain changes in those with internet addiction. Researchers find there are similar changes in those with compulsive eating and substance addiction such as cocaine, opiates and methamphetamine. Internet Addiction Brain Changes Abnormal White Matter Integrity in Adolescents with Internet Addiction Disorder: A Tract-Based Spatial Statistics Study (2012) Lin et al. A Tract-Based Spatial Statistics Study
How Screen Addiction Is Hijacking Our Kids
Psychotherapist and addiction specialist Nicholas Kardaras explains how digital screens may have a negative effect on children’s heath. He is author of Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction Is Hijacking Our Kids and How to Break the Trance, which highlights an abundance of scientific data on adverse effects of digital technology overuse. As an experienced practitioner he has observed how excessive screen time can lead to ADHD, screen addiction, increased aggression, depression, anxiety and even psychosis. He gives advice to parents and schools alike on when to introduce digital media. He has asked Congress to put a warning label on digital screens stating “WARNING: Excessive Screen Usage By Children Can Lead to Clinical Disorders”
Brain Scans of Those With Compulsive Internet Device Use
Dr. David Rosenberg from Wayne State University School of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences discusses his brain scan research on patients with compulsive internet device use before and after addiction correction. He highlights the loss of cognitive functioning as well as executive functioning with internet use.
Electronic Screen Time and the Overstimulated Child
Dr Victoria Dunckley is an experienced Board Certified integrative child psychiatrist and author of “Reset Your Child’s Brain: A Four-Week Plan to End Meltdowns, Raise Grades and Boost Social Skills by Reversing the Effects of Electronic Screen Time”. In this video she discusses the clinical and physiologic effects she has seen from the overuse of digital devices on those with or without a preexisting psychologic dysfunction.
PBS Special Interview with “Screenagers” documentary creator Dr. Delaney Ruston. She discusses her difficulties controlling her kids social media and internet gaming and how this led her to make the film. Dr. Ruston explains the parts of the brain that makes use of these devices addictive and how this is similar to substance abuse.
References for Parents
The American Psychological Association: “Children and electronic media: How much is too much? by Julia da Silva. Generation “M” for Media
The American Academy of Pediatrics Family Media Plan. Creating a Family Media Plan
Entertainment Software Rating Board which provides rating categories for video games. ESRB Parent Resource Center
Families Managing Media. This is a dynamic organization helping families to rethink screen use,, deal with addiction and how to reconnect with your kids. Families Managing Media
The Internet Addiction Test. Psychology Tools. Internet Addiction Test
Reset Your Child’s Brain: A 4 Week Plan to End Meltdowns, Raise Grades, and Boost Social Skills by Reversing the Effects of Electronic Screen time. Victoria Dunckley, MD.
The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age. Catherine Steiner-Adair.
Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction Is Hijacking Our Kids-and How to Break the Trance. Nicholas Kardaras
Wired Child: Reclaiming Childhood in a Digital Age. Dr. Richard Freed
Cyber Junkie: Escape the Gaming and Internet Trap. Kevin Roberts