Since the emergence of smartphones and the internet, research has shown an increase in the number of people that struggle with electronic addiction. Electronic addiction is also called technology addiction or internet addiction. It's not uncommon for adults and teens to feel like they must constantly be "plugged in" to the internet and social media. But, this can leave younger people with a feeling of FOMO (fear of missing out) or fear of being left out.
Electronic addiction is considered a behavioral addiction due to the effect electronic use has on the brain.
What is Electronic Addiction?
As mentioned, electronic addiction falls into a specific category — behavioral addictions. These are primarily recognized by addiction and mental health professionals and include other behaviors like sex and gambling.
Behavioral addictions are characterized by the progressive inability to regulate, control, or limit a certain behavior. Internet addiction shares similar characteristics with obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCDs).
The world today is characterized by increasing technology and connectivity use. Some teenagers and young adults cross over from everyday technology use into addiction. This happens when technology negatively impacts their family, school, work, and social life.
Addiction to electronics includes addiction to:
Surfing the web
Teen Electronic Addiction Quiz
Social Media Addiction
Teenagers' most preferred online platforms are Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, and Snapchat. And around 95% of teenagers have access to smartphones, and 45% claim to be online 'almost constantly, according to a 2018 Pew Research Center survey.1
Facebook was a big player in the social media landscape among America's youth until recently. Now, it's no longer the preferred online platform among teenagers, based on a new 2022 Pew Research Center Survey.2 The social media landscape is ever-changing, particularly among teenagers who frequently are on the leading edge of this space.
According to the survey, YouTube is the leader of the 2022 teenager online landscape among all the platforms covered. The study indicated that the platform is used by 95% of teenagers.
Next on the list of popular platforms is TikTok, with 67% of teens using it. Followed by Snapchat and Instagram, both used by six-in-ten teenagers. Facebook hits last on the list, with 32% of teens using it and smaller shares who use Twitch, Twitter, Reddit, WhatsApp, and Tumblr.
What Makes Electronics Addicting?
A few factors make addiction to technology prevalent among teens and young adults. For one thing, laptop and desktop computers, smartphones, and gaming consoles remain widely accessible to young adults and teens.
Technology use triggers brain pathways in the same intense and direct way that particular substances affect the brain of a drug addict. Specifically, the use of technology, especially social media and games, increases the release of dopamine and endorphins, accelerating the craving or urge for another rush.3,4 This continuous overstimulation shifts an individual's nervous system into fight-or-flight mode. Which disturbs hormonal and biological systems, and can result in mood and mental health disorders.
Electronics fulfill the natural human need for interaction, stimulation, and environmental changes with excellent efficiency. When teens experience stress, technology can quickly and easily become a way for them to fill basic needs. As a result, they may become addicted.
Technology impacts the brain's pleasure systems in similar ways as substances. It offers similar rewards as alcohol and drugs as it can be:
A social lubricant
An escape from reality
Computer and video games, tablets and smartphones, the internet, and social media offer several access points that can promote technology dependence and negative consequences for teens:
1. The Internet
The internet can be addictive as it acts as a multifunctional tool. This tool brings people exceptionally close to a large amount of information at unparalleled speeds. User-friendly by design, individuals now have internet access on their desktops, laptops and through apps on their phones, tablets, and watches.
Fear of missing out, or "FOMO," is a commonly described phenomenon for young adults and teenagers. Youths growingly feel the need to remain connected on the Web and social media. Hence, they're not the last to know news stories or social happenings.
Related to FOMO, several Facebook users, for example, report that their web-based social media use is their chosen method to alleviate depression or anxiety.5 With so much accessibility to internet usage, it's challenging to stay away from using technology. This is because the internet is so easy and rewarding to use.
2. Computer and Video Games
One distinctive feature of human psychology is that people want to feel autonomous, competent, and related to others. Challenging video and computer games allow players to feel that there's something they're good at. They provide a lot of variety for players to choose from and promote a sense of autonomy for teenagers who may feel otherwise out of control.
Similar goals that drive individuals to pursue success in the real world are frequently present in video games. As one accumulates virtual status or wealth by advancing through game levels, virtual wealth often translates into some form of actual recognition. This is done through the power of monetary purchasing within online games or having a positive reputation online.
Gamers associate themselves with other enthusiasts who share their hobby through subreddits or YouTube channels dedicated to discussing specific games of choice. Similar to the internet, video games are accessible to teenagers through smartphone apps and rarely leave the teens' pockets or hands.
The gaming universe has room for social connection. However, it also offers a potential reality escape into a digital world where gaming enthusiasts can assume new identities. They may take on identities they find more appealing or novel than the ones they have in real life.
3. Lifestyle Technologies, Smartphones, and Tablets
These flexible, highly-mobile devices offer the power of constantly connecting. Tablets and smartphones and the emergence of other smart devices promote electronics addiction. These devices take away the time lapse from activities and tasks that previously required a person to log into a deskbound computer source.
4. Social Media
Online social media platforms present individually-relevant information in simple ways through personalized, centralized portals such as:
Social media feeds individuals' need for human connection by enabling them to share feedback with people far from them in geography, time, or social status. As social animals, individuals require human contact for psychological and emotional health. The social media appeal is that it assists teens in filling social needs without the restraints or efforts of in-person communication.
What are the Risks of Electronic Addiction?
Electronic addiction can ruin lives since it causes psychological disturbances, neurological complications, and social issues.6 It's known that addictions activate a certain combination of brain areas linked with pleasure. Combined, they're referred to as the brain's "pleasure pathway" or "reward center."
When activated, it increases dopamine release, along with neurochemicals. Over time, the linked receptors may be impacted. They may start producing tolerance or need increased stimulation of the brain's reward center to create a "high."
The ensuing characteristic behavior patterns are required to avoid withdrawal. Repetitive internet use can also result in a dopamine release in certain brain reward structures called nucleus accumbens, which are involved in other addictions.
While electronics are not all bad, their overuse can pose specific risks, particularly to teens. Technology can give teens a false sense of relational security as they connect and communicate with others online worldwide. Since technology is so fast-paced, it makes everything teenagers may be looking for available within seconds, encouraging the unhealthy need for instant gratification.
Some consequences of this include:
Anxiety or irritability in a teen may result from “unplugging,” or a slow internet connection since the technology generally grants the teen constant connection.
A sedentary lifestyle and poor diet can lead to weight gain and other issues that can lead to complications like cardiovascular disease.
Sleep disorders can develop when teenagers stay up all night playing video games and doing other online things with technology. This can result in poor athletic, academic, and social performance.
Teens may experience a deterioration in their in-person social skills.
Even as healthy teenagers become challenged with hormonal changes, increasing life responsibilities, and daily stressors, these life transitions become more difficult. This is especially true for teens who are wholly absorbed in technology.
The mind of a teen addicted to electronics becomes increasingly unable to tell the difference between the lived and the alternate realities. Because of this, the overuse of electronics can disrupt normal socialization patterns and mood patterns in teens. Dependency upon gaming, social media, and other platforms to function can start becoming the new, unhealthy "normal."
Teen Electronic Addiction & Substance Use
Researchers have found proof that individuals who overuse technology may develop similar neural patterning and brain chemistry to those with a substance addiction.7
Another concern is that teens with a technology addiction are more likely to use substances than their peers with healthy relationships with technology. This provides insight that electronic addiction could potentially be a risk factor for drug and alcohol addiction.
This indicates that if internet addiction can be prevented, it may also prevent other risky behaviors and dangerous consequences for teenagers.
The Brain & Technology
Research shows that brain scans of young individuals with internet addiction disorder (IAD) have similarities to those of individuals with substance addictions. The brain reacts similarly when addicted to cannabis, alcohol, and cocaine.8
Damage to brain systems that connect emotional processing, decision-making, and attention is affected in both electronic addicts and substance addicts. This finding shows that being hooked on a technology behavior could be as physically damaging as being addicted to drugs and alcohol.
Signs of Teen Electronic Addiction
Some common symptoms and signs of problematic internet use or tech addiction in teens include:
Obsessed or absorbed with the internet. Frequently thinking about or discussing themes associated with favorite websites, etc.Problematic or excessive internet use daily. Frequently check favorite websites when waking up, throughout the day, and before bed.Depression, irritability, or anxiety when access to a laptop, desktop, smartphone, or tablet is taken away.Disinterested in other activities once enjoyed and choosing to use the internet instead of engaging in hobbies or sports or hanging out with friends.Academic problems include missing assignments, dropping grades, sleeping in class, or disengaging in the classroom.Lying about or covering up for how much time is spent on the internet.Using the internet or being on social media excessively as an escape or a crutch from negative emotions.Isolation from their peers.Disregarding personal hygiene.Avoiding responsibilities, such as chores, schoolwork, or after-school job, to spend time on the internet.Significant change in sleeping patterns and/or eating patterns.
Many symptoms of addiction to electronics are congruent with substance abuse problem-related symptoms. Some parents often overlook symptoms or signs of technology addiction as teenagers just being teenagers. But, teen electronics addiction can cause issues with social skills, physical health, and mental health. Spending lengthy amounts of time on electronic devices can considerably impact their body and mind.
Preventing Technology Addiction With Massachusetts Center for Adolescent Wellness
The use of technology will only grow in teens' worlds. To prevent teen addiction to electronics means parents must find a balance within their teens' lives. This way, teens don't misuse their electronics to escape real-world emotions, identity, socialization, and challenges. Parents may want to consider treatment.
Massachusetts Center for Adolescent Wellness (MCAW) can provide teens with a comprehensive approach to treating various behavioral and mental health concerns. We treat a range of concerns, including teen electronic addiction. MCAW's staff are trained and highly skilled in family therapy. We help families build connections damaged by behavioral or mental health conditions.
Massachusetts Center for Adolescent Wellness (MCAW) provides adolescents between the ages of 13 and 17 with an outpatient program that offers support and therapy. We provide treatment for several mental health conditions and behavioral concerns. We combine holistic approaches with evidence-based therapies to provide the best care possible for teenagers and their families.
1. Family Therapy
Self-exploration may be challenging, but it's a normal part of adolescence. Even so, when it starts to affect the teen's life in other areas, it can indicate something is going on. Trying to find treatment for adolescents can be a challenging task for some families. However, the treatment process can often become more streamlined with a family therapist's help.
Family therapy helps teenagers navigate the different obstacles and challenges they face during adolescence while reinforcing their bond with their families. Massachusetts Center for Adolescent Wellness (MCAW) helps families through the therapeutic process.
2. Motivational Interviewing
This type of therapy works by helping teens with extreme views about themselves or confused feelings to reshape their narrative. They learn how to create a more positive and healthy view of things.
Motivational interviewing has assisted individuals who have struggled with addiction for decades. Therefore healthcare professionals have expanded its use to other mental health conditions. Motivational interviewing is designed to help individuals with their indecisive thought processes. This is used to help them adopt a new motivational thought process that will result in changed thought and behavior processes.
3. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT is a treatment based on the idea that an individual's thoughts and emotions are responsible for their feelings and behavior. While other therapy types might evaluate past events, CBT focuses more on what is occurring now.
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy can show teens and adolescents how their behaviors, emotions, and thoughts are connected. It can help them learn to turn negative thoughts into more positive ones. Thus, making it easier to overcome behavioral disorders, improve emotional and mental health, and accomplish goals.
The Massachusetts Center for Adolescent Wellness team is skilled and experienced in managing adolescent mental health and behavioral problems like tech addiction. Our evidence-based therapeutic approaches help teens and their families learn better ways to manage their mental health. We help families recover so they can move on to live healthier, happier lives.
Contact us to learn more about how the Massachusetts Center for Adolescent Wellness can help your teen's potential electronic addiction.
National Library of Medicine. Evidence for striatal dopamine release during a video game. M J Koepp 1, R N Gunn, A D Lawrence, V J Cunningham, A Dagher, T Jones, D J Brooks, C J Bench, P M Grasby. 1998 May 21;393(6682):266-8. doi: 10.1038/30498 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9607763/
National Library of Medicine. Internet Addiction: A Brief Summary of Research and Practice. Hilarie Cash,a,* Cosette D Rae,a Ann H Steel,a and Alexander Winklerb. Curr Psychiatry Rev. 2012 Nov; 8(4): 292–298. Published online 2012 Nov. doi: 10.2174/157340012803520513 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3480687/
Nature Reviews Neuroscience. Dysfunction of the prefrontal cortex in addiction: neuroimaging findings and clinical implications Rita Z. Goldstein & Nora D. Volkow. Published: 20 October 2011. https://www.nature.com/articles/nrn3119
Plos One. Abnormal White Matter Integrity in Adolescents with Internet Addiction Disorder: A Tract-Based Spatial Statistics Study Fuchun Lin ,Yan Zhou ,Yasong Du ,Lindi Qin,Zhimin Zhao,Jianrong Xu ,Hao Lei. Published: January 11, 2012. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0030253 https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0030253
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