Q: What is “Compulsive Technology Use?”
Think of Compulsive Technology Use like an itch that doesn’t go away. You know that scratching and scratching will only make things worse, but it feels like you have to scratch. For people who use technology compulsively, they can feel like they have no power to stop. This can occur in the car, at bedtime, in social situations, in ways that prevent them from engaging in other real-world activities.
Q: What are some signs that digital behaviors (such as being on social media, gaming, or internet use) have become problematic?
An early sign of problematic usage is staying up late at night scrolling, gaming, and/or texting. This is a good indication of an unhealthy relationship.
Another clear sign of problematic usage is when people get behind with real-world obligations (work and school) and continue to prioritize video games, Netflix, and social media over making a plan to get caught up.
Q: Is Compulsive Technology Use considered to be a recognized disorder or an addiction?
Korea, Japan and China all recognize internet gaming addiction as a disorder. The World Health Organization also has designated it as such. In the United States, our mental health community has not yet officially recognized this as a disorder. However, there are some treatment centers and providers that have been working to develop ways to support and treat people that struggle with this issue.
Q:Are some people at a higher risk for developing compulsive behaviors when using technology? (i.e. previously diagnosed mental health and/or substance use disorders, someone who works with technology/media all day, etc.?)
I believe people with anxiety, especially social anxiety, are at risk for leaning on technology in ways that can become very problematic. Because the digital world is so ordered and predictable in many respects, I believe people on the Autism Spectrum are vulnerable to excessive use.
If we don’t have myriad ways to express and manage stress/discomfort, sadness, anger, feeling discouraged, fearful, inadequate, unloved, embarrassed and lonely we are susceptible to using anything that helps comfort us when we feel these difficult feelings. Technology is a very easy tool to “medicate” many of these difficult feelings.
Q: What are some of the current interventions and treatments available for people who identify as having problems with Compulsive Technology Use?
What I find is that most of the time it is loved ones who notice the problematic use. The first intervention is often getting family members, significant others, and close friends, aligned around how to support and challenge their loved one. Without loved ones being aligned change can be very difficult. Recovery with this issue is like many issues; it impacts, and has impacted, the family. Often, the family has organized itself around this behavior. For loved ones, find a therapist that can assist you in understanding this issue and support you in knowing how to respond to support and challenge your loved one to consider a way of being in the world that could be more life-giving.
Q: What are some actions that a family member or friend can take if they are concerned about their loved one’s social media, gaming, or internet use?
Go to Olganon.org. Share your concerns with your loved one (but not by telling them that they are “addicted”). Let them know that you care about them and you miss them. You are sad that you are not able to connect with them and feel as though the screen is an impediment to connecting with them more deeply. Do NOT wait for them to get treatment! You can take action, even if they are not ready to do so. Find a therapist. Make sure to contact one who understands this particular issue.
Mathew Meyers, MA, LMFT is a Therapist and Owner of Traverse Counseling & Consulting in St. Louis Park, MN.
Mathew has a background in youth and family ministry and is also a trainer and associate with Peer Ministry Leadership training faith communities all over the nation in “Good Samaritan Leadership”.
Mathew is passionate about relationships and has a desire to help couples redesign their relationship so it suits both partners, improve communication and understanding for parents and children, and support parents in reasserting their parental authority when feeling as though they have lost control of their family.
Mathew also writes a blog, Relationships that Heal, for professional and non-professional helpers and caregivers.
Additional Specialties: Video Gaming Addiction, Discernment Counseling, Marriage Counseling, Reunification, Co-Parenting, Parent Coaching
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