Are you Digitally Addicted?


The word “addiction” is a problematic word. it can be used light-heartedly to describe our attachment to something – alcohol, chocolate, food, even love. It is also used by qualified medical practitioners to describe a condition that can destroy lives, literally. So,when we use it, we have to be careful. “You’re addicted to those computer games” we might say to one of our children and we might be describing a dangerous psychological condition, not just engaging in a bit of parental banter. Sometimes it is both.

Digital addiction overlaps with addiction to substances such as nicotine and alcohol.But there are difference as well, of course.  When we are engaged in digital activity – gaming, texting, surfing or tweeting, we aren’t consuming a substance, injecting ourselves physically, or inhaling. Yet, like gambling, we are engaged in an activity that, when addicted, we simply cannot spot. We  might not want to stop. We might want to stop but, try as we might, we always end up doing it again.

At the simplest level, that is what addiction is – the inability to stop; the inability to “not”.

The Center for Internet and Technology Addiction offers this short online test. And a recent survey points to the increase in technology and digital addiction. Commenting on the survey, Dr Reed from the University of Swansea in the UK, characterises some of that addiction:

“Some smart phone owners are reporting broken sleep patterns where they’re actually waking up to check the Internet, email, or social media. At the extreme there are people spending 60-70% of their waking life on the Internet for non-work-related purposes.”He further describes it as ” “irresistible urges, inability to stop using compulsively, withdrawal when you don’t have it, and increased tolerance which leads to using it more and more.””

Similar to other addictions such as alcohol, smoking and  gambling? Certainly there are many similarities. We are even finding the neurological basis for digital addiction.

Hilarie Cash points to the hard evidence for the physiological highs that digital addicts looks to repeat through digital activity: “Once an addiction takes hold, the addict is either chasing another high or trying to avoid withdrawal. This, in turn, leads to obsession and engaging in the behavior in spite of negative consequences. The pleasure pathway, now overused, has become highly sensitive and responsive to cues that trigger a craving for the drug or behavior. So, for instance, if you’ve become addicted to Farmville or World of Warcraft, then merely sitting down in front of your computer, or merely opening up the internet on your smart phone, can trigger the release of neurochemicals that make us crave engagement in those games.”

Digital addiction becomes the inability to stop engaging digitally as a person becomes locked into a behavioural cycle of repetition. The person can’t stop.

Can you stop? Are you becoming addicted?

Here are some of the symptoms which serve as warning signs for becoming digital addicted. There are many more. Look down the list and tick any that apply to you. Of course, some of these on their own to not mean you are addicted. It is the combination of several of these which point towards digital addiction.

The Twenty signs and symptoms

1 – waking up in the night to check your smart phone, tablet or PC– the inability to switch off devices

2 – constantly reaching for your phone to check it and an inability to not do that

3 – an inability to not respond immediately to messages and alerts

4 – ignoring and neglecting friends and loved ones in favour of digital alerts and demands

5 – an inability to travel (on trains, planes, buses, even walking along) without constantly checking devices

6 – feelings of strong panic if you can’t find one of your digital devices

7 – becoming agitated when devices are switched off

8 – spending large amounts of money (in relation to your means) in purchasing, upgrading   and topping up digital products and services  

9 – an inability to send a message or some other form of communication without constantly checking back for replies and feedback

10 – digital activity has become the main activity in your day

11 – a feeling of needing to connect every few minutes and an inability to have even a relaxed hour away from digital activity

12 – feeling annoyed when friends, colleagues and loved ones interrupt your digital activity

13 – feeling a compulsion to “get back” to your game, social network texts, program – they have now become your “default”

14 – noticing that digital activity is now your main “high” of the day

15 – needing your devices to be always physically near you or even on your body

16 – feelings of loss and missing out after just a few minutes of being “offline”

17 – your digital world activity now feels more important and more of a priority than your physical world duties and responsibilities

18 – turning devices off for a chosen amount of time and not being able to keep them off

19 – seeing after-images of games, other digital images, animations and text when you are still, lying in bed before sleep, or even walking along; even residual feelings of movement

20 – digital devices are always on and engaged with during all social activities (restaurants, cafés, meal times at home, at the cinema, in bed, out and about) 

Now, think about what you have ticked. If you have ticked more than five of these items, you are showing strong warning signs of being digitally addicted. That might be the signal to start to become more self-controlled in how you engage digitally. It might be a sign to get some professional help. Some people can gain back their self-control with a few smart changes, a bit of cutting down. Others will need assistance. There’s no single answer here for everyone for we are all different.

What next? Some people recognise their addiction, even name it, and decide to carry on. Others belittle it, dilute it and say “it isn’t that bad!”. Some seek help. Consulting your GP, seeking counselling, or looking for a local digital detox program. These are available in different ways in different parts of the world. The first step, though, it to recognise the symptoms and, as with any addiction, to admit to it.

A few resources

The Center for Internet and Technology Addiction – services and some resources

The Center for Internet Addiction

Video Game Addiction

Five Tips on Beating Video Game Addiction – an article in the Telegraph newspaper

Video Game Addiction Help –  a UK-based resource

About Paul Levy

Paul is a writer, thinker, facilitator, theatre-maker, and conversifier. He is the author of the book, Digital Inferno.

Posted on November 4, 2014, in Key themes. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Your article is spot on. I’m digitally addicted. Found myself nodding again and again to those twenty symptoms. I’ve found resources online to help me. For gamers, I suggest Computer Gaming Addicts Anonymous and Reddit’s StopGaming. It’s so much easier to make positive changes when I’m doing along with other people working on similar things. Thanks for writing about this growing problem!

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