The Cycle of Technology Addiction
In September of 2018 the World Health Organization included “Gaming Disorder” in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11). Gaming disorder is defined as a “pattern of gaming behavior (“digital gaming” or “video gaming”) characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.”
For gaming disorder to be “diagnosed the behavior pattern must be of sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning and would normally have been evident for at least 12 months.”
The inclusion of gaming disorder in the ICD marks a very important step in the recognition and broad acceptance that technology can become a behavioral or process addiction. To be sure, there will be vigorous debate for the foreseeable future about the wording of the ICD definition as well as the validity of the research that resulted in the inclusion of gaming disorder in ICD.
For therapists that have direct clinical experience working with children and teens that have lost a healthy balance between their non-tech and tech lives, - children and teens that clearly exhibit the negative consequences of technology over use - the ongoing debate about definitions and the quality of research is secondary to providing effective solutions. In short, therapists need to find and implement effective solutions to problems with technology consumption whether the mental health community at large comes to a consensus on whether to use the terms “addiction” or “disorder.”
Based on our reading of current and past literature on gaming and internet behavior, and our clinical experience working with children and teens over the past seven years, The Cyber Addiction Recovery Center has concluded that there is a predictable cycle to “problematic” technology consumption or “addiction.”
The cycle begins with your child/teen experiencing a negative mood such as boredom, depression, anger, and/or anxiety. It is difficult to precisely determine the percentage of children/teens who engage in excessive technology consumption who struggle with a negative moods. With this said, the overwhelming majority of clients treated at our Center have a history of depression, social anxiety, hypersensitivity to boredom, and/or are easily frustrated and angry.
The next phase in the cycle is excessive technology consumption (console gaming, computer gaming, internet browsing, YouTube, streaming, cyber pornography, etc.).
The third phase involves a change in mood. As a consequence of excessive technology consumption, your child/teen experiences temporary relief from their negative mood (improved mood). Gaming, internet browsing, pornography, etc. raises the level of the “feel good” neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain, thus producing a temporary change in mood.
The fourth phase of the cycle involves negative consequences. As your child/teen pursues dopamine producing technology, they disregard the real life negative consequences of excessive technology consumption and fight to maintain or increase their level of screen time.
The cycle repeats itself as the experience of negative moods reoccurs. Your child/teen is then dependent on technology to regulate negative mood states.
It is important to note that recent research suggests a bidirectional relationship between excessive technology consumption and mood disorders. For example, research suggests that depressive symptoms are linked to an increase in technology consumption and excessive technology consumption is linked to depressive symptoms. That is, depression appears to increase technology use and excessive technology use increases depressive symptoms.