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The role of technology in internet addiction: technology and internet addiction

Reading time: 16 mins
The role of technology in internet addiction: technology and internet addiction

Technology is a major factor in the emergence and persistence of internet addiction. The ease and appeal of accessing the online world has been enhanced by the widespread availability of gadgets such as laptops, tablets, and smartphones, along with fast internet connections.

Internet addiction is a consistent need to access online services, such as the internet, social media platforms, or gaming services. It goes beyond just the internet, as addiction to technology is also becoming a major concern. 

Signs of internet addiction may include the need to spend more time on the web, watch shows on streaming services for longer periods of time, and often results in irritability and other symptoms when access to the internet is restricted. 

Treatment for internet addiction often involves cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), medications, inpatient treatment programs, and support groups. 

The causes of internet addiction include genetics, structural brain changes, stress, ease of access, and underlying mental health conditions. 

We take a closer look at the role that technology plays in internet addiction, as well as various strategies that can be used to overcome this issue.

1. Easy access to the internet

Easy access to the internet refers to the simplicity and ease with which individuals can connect to the World Wide Web. It entails having readily accessible devices such as smartphones, laptops, tablets, as well as a dependable internet connection.

Ease of access to the internet contributes to internet addiction by making it easier for individuals to engage in excessive online activities. For instance, the seamless and convenient access to the online world through various devices encourages prolonged periods of internet use. 

According to the 2021 internet/broadband fact sheet from the Pew Research Center, it is estimated that around 93% of all adults in the US have access to the internet and use it on a regular basis. Advancements to the technology required to access the internet, including devices and the connection itself (fiber, broadband, and mobile internet connections) have driven this increase in accessibility.

2. Social media platforms

Social media platforms are websites and online spaces that are made to help people connect with each other, talk, and share information. People and businesses can use these platforms to meet virtually with friends, family, coworkers, and people who share their interests. 

Profiles let users share text, photos, videos, and links, and comments, likes, shares, and direct messages let users interact with each other. However, these platforms may play a role in internet addiction by capitalizing on the human desire for social connection and belonging facilitated by technology and addiction. 

People who are lonely, alienated, or marginalized in their offline life may find a feeling of connection and support on social media platforms. This can lead to a reliance on online interactions and a neglect of real-life relationships.

3. Online gaming

joystick in front of a screen

Online gaming is defined as the act of playing video games via the internet or another computer network. It can involve different genres, platforms, and modes of interaction, depending on the game and the players. 

Fortnite, Call of Duty, and Mario Kart are some of the most popular examples of games that allow players to play together – even if they live in different countries.

Online gaming can contribute to internet addiction due to the fact that online games are designed to keep players engaged for extended periods. The immersive nature of these games, coupled with the desire to achieve in-game goals, can lead individuals to spend excessive amounts of time online.

According to a 2022 article written by Andrej Hadji-Vasilev for, 81% of the Gen Z population in the United States play games on a regular basis. While there are certain benefits to gaming, it can easily lead to online gaming addiction when things get out of control. 

People tend to spend too much time on these games. They detach themselves to the outside world, reduce their social interactions in the physical world, and stay up in the late hours of the night to make sure they maximize their play time.

4. Streaming services and entertainment

Streaming services are websites that let people get digital material like movies, TV shows, music, and more over the internet. For a monthly fee, these services give subscribers access to a huge library of material that they can watch whenever they want.

When used in a broad sense, entertainment means any activity or material that is meant to amuse, engage, or give people or groups pleasure. Among other things, it includes things like watching movies, TV shows, and sports, listening to music, going to live shows, playing computer games, reading books, and doing other fun things.

Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video, and Apple TV are streaming services that have become an integral part of our lives today. While some people still depend on cable TV and similar options, the use of streaming services tend to offer a much greater level of convenience. 

However, streaming services and entertainment can result in addiction to technology through several mechanisms. The allure of these platforms lies in their vast libraries of content, accessible at any time, on various devices. 

This accessibility can lead individuals to spend excessive hours online, continually seeking new forms of entertainment. Binge-watching TV series or engaging in prolonged gaming sessions can become habitual, often at the expense of other responsibilities and offline activities.

5. Online shopping and gambling 

online shopping cart in front of a Macbook

Online shopping refers to the practice of purchasing goods or services from internet-based retailers and e-commerce websites. It involves using a computer, smartphone, or other internet-connected device to browse product catalogs, select items, make payments electronically, and have the purchases delivered to the buyer’s specified location.  

Online gambling, on the other hand, refers to wagering or betting on games of chance, sports events, or other activities over the internet. It includes various forms of betting, such as casino games (e.g., poker, slots, roulette), sports betting, online lottery, and virtual sports.

In the case of online shopping, the convenience of browsing and making purchases from a wide array of products and services at any time can lead to compulsive buying behavior, also known as online shopping addiction. Individuals may find themselves continually seeking new items, often driven by the excitement of making online purchases. 

Finally, the digital nature of gambling platforms, coupled with the thrill of potential winnings, can entice individuals to spend extended periods online. 

6. Social comparison and validation

When people assess their own worth or the value of their own qualities in relation to those of other people, this is known as social comparison. Physical appearance, accomplishments, social standing, and material assets are all fair game for this kind of evaluation.

To be socially validated means to have one’s ideas, emotions, or behaviors acknowledged, approved of, or confirmed by other people. Seeking validation indicates that one is looking for external confirmation or acceptance of one’s thoughts, feelings, or actions. 

Social comparison plays a significant role in contributing to internet addiction by fueling a constant need for online engagement and validation. The internet, particularly through social media platforms, offers individuals endless opportunities for comparing themselves to others. 

The curated images and achievements displayed by peers can lead to unfavorable self-comparisons, driving individuals to spend more time online in an attempt to measure up or outdo their peers. 

Social validation adds greatly to internet addiction by reinforcing the cycle of seeking acceptance and recognition from others online. Social media sites, in particular, have become centers where people share their opinions, experiences, and accomplishments in exchange for likes, comments, and shares. 

The pleasure associated with positive feedback and the fear of missing out (FOMO) on social interactions contribute to the addictive character of social validation.

7. Escapism and stress relief

girl looking into the camera aggressively

Escapism is the act of seeking distraction or relief from the demands, pressures, or realities of daily life by engaging in activities that provide an alternative, often immersive, experience. It involves temporarily disengaging from one’s everyday responsibilities, concerns, or stressors, and finding solace or enjoyment in activities that transport individuals to different worlds or mental states.

On the other hand, stress relief is any action taken to alleviate or control the emotional and physiological distress brought on by daily stresses. The goals of engaging in stress-relieving activities and strategies are to achieve a state of calmness and relaxation.

Escapism plays a pivotal role in the development of internet addiction by providing individuals with a means to temporarily escape from the demands and stressors of real life. The allure of escapism through the internet lies in its ability to offer an alternate reality or a refuge from daily challenges. 

Paradoxically, stress reduction can also cause online addiction. Immersive gaming, aimless social media scrolling, and binge-watching movies are all ways to reduce stress online. Online activities offer a momentary break from life’s stresses. 

However, the issue emerges when people overuse the internet to relieve stress. Overdependence can create a cycle where stress leads to greater internet use, which leads to more stress from neglecting obligations and offline interactions.

8. Online relationships

Online relationships are defined as interpersonal connections or interactions that primarily occur over the internet or through digital communication channels. These relationships can encompass various forms, including friendships, romantic partnerships, professional connections, or even casual acquaintances, all established and maintained via online platforms and communication tools.

Online relationships can contribute not only to internet addiction but also relationship addiction in several ways. While they offer the opportunity for meaningful connections, the ease of communication and constant availability of online platforms can lead to excessive engagement. 

People may spend increasing amounts of time nurturing these relationships, whether through messaging, video calls, or online gaming, often at the expense of offline interactions and responsibilities.

9. Virtual reality (VR)

Virtual reality (VR) is a computer-generated environment or simulation that immerses viewers in a three-dimensional, interactive experience. This simulation can be created to mimic the real world or to be completely imaginative, giving users the sense of being in a different location or environment. 

VR often entails the use of specialized headsets or goggles that track the user’s head movements and modify the virtual environment accordingly to achieve this immersion. 

Although VR is not a direct cause of internet addiction, its immersive nature and online capabilities can help to reinforce compulsive internet behaviors. For online multiplayer experiences and content upgrades, VR frequently requires an internet connection, giving consumers a platform for ongoing online involvement. 

Because of the very immersive and fascinating nature of VR experiences, users may be more likely to spend extended periods of time in virtual settings, perhaps neglecting offline duties and relationships.

Furthermore, a 2010 article written by Tara Parker-Pope for the New York Times  states that the current state of technology and addictive behaviors toward these inventions are causing people to become impatient and forgetful.

10. Smartphones and push notifications

A man holding a smartphone

A smartphone is a mobile device that combines the operation of a standard cell phone with computer-like features and capabilities. Smartphones are intended to give users a variety of capabilities in addition to simple voice communication. Internet access, email, text messaging, multimedia playing, mobile apps, and other features are included.

Meanwhile, push notifications are short messages or alerts sent by apps, services, or systems to a user’s smartphone or mobile device. These notifications are “pushed” to the device without the user having to actively request or refresh material. 

They can send updates, news, reminders, or alerts about numerous apps and services, such as social networking, messaging, email, and news. The continual and tempting link to the online world provided by smartphones and push notifications is one of the main factors contributing to the development of internet addiction.

Smartphones give users continuous internet connection, allowing them to be online at any time and in any location. The push notifications function, which is designed to capture users’ instant attention, generates a sense of urgency and encourages them to interact with numerous apps and services on a regular basis. 

This constant stream of alerts can lead to a cycle of compulsive checking, as individuals feel compelled to respond to messages, check social media updates, or explore online content instantly. 

In fact, this has become a problem to the point where associations, such as the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction, have even created specific programs that target people who are showing signs of smartphone and internet addiction together, as seen on their homepage.

What is internet addiction?

Internet addiction, also known as problematic internet usage or internet addiction disorder (IAD), is a behavioral addiction defined by obsessive internet use, frequently to the detriment of one’s daily life, responsibilities, and general well-being. 

It is characterized by an insatiable desire to be online, resulting in a lack of control over internet usage. Internet addiction includes a wide range of online behaviors such as social media, online gaming, web browsing, and video streaming. 

Individuals affected by internet addiction may prioritize online interactions and experiences over offline relationships, work, school, or other essential responsibilities. It often requires intervention and treatment to help these people regain control of their online behaviors and find a balance between their virtual and real-world lives.

What are the impacts of technology on internet addiction?

blue screen with logos of different apps

Technology has a profound impact on internet addiction, both in its development and perpetuation. For instance, the widespread availability of internet-enabled devices makes it easier for individuals to access the online world, fostering addictive behaviors. 

High-speed internet connections further facilitate this access, enabling seamless and uninterrupted engagement with various online activities. Additionally, technology plays a significant role in creating highly engaging online environments, incorporating elements like gamification, social interactions, and instant gratification, which can intensify internet addiction. 

The constant connectivity provided by technology makes it challenging for individuals to disconnect from the internet, leading to a loss of control over screen time and neglect of real-life responsibilities. 

While technology itself is not inherently negative, its design, ubiquity, and the allure of online experiences contribute significantly to the development and reinforcement of internet addiction. Recognizing these impacts and practicing responsible digital habits are crucial in addressing and mitigating the effects of internet addiction.

How has smartphone and other digital device accessibility increased internet addiction? 

The accessibility of smartphones and other digital devices has significantly increased the prevalence of internet addiction. These devices have become ubiquitous in daily life, providing users with constant access to the internet. 

Smartphones, in particular, are always within arm’s reach, making it effortless to go online at any time and place. This level of accessibility has promoted addictive behaviors as individuals find themselves drawn to various online activities, from social media and gaming to web browsing and streaming. 

In fact, a 2019 article written by Laura Silver for the Pew Research Center states that more than 5 billion individuals own mobile devices during that year, with smartphones accounting for more than half of these connections. 

The instant gratification offered by these devices, with notifications, likes, and messages constantly vying for attention, creates a sense of urgency that encourages compulsive checking and prolonged screen time. 

Overall, the widespread accessibility of these digital devices has played a pivotal role in the increase of technology addiction, making it a pressing concern in the digital age.

What are the health risks of internet addiction? 

The health risks of internet addiction include various physical, mental, and social consequences. In terms of physical health, too much screen time can cause sedentary behavior, which can aggravate musculoskeletal conditions, obesity, and sleep disorders. 

Mentally, multiple studies have found a correlation between internet addiction and mental health problems, such as stress, depression, aggression, suicide intention, and antisocial behaviors, according to a 2019 study by Saikia et al., published in the Journal of Family & Community Medicine

Excessive internet use can lead to social isolation and the deterioration of offline relationships, affecting one’s ability to form and maintain meaningful connections. Finally, internet addiction and health risks can have academic or occupational repercussions, as individuals may neglect their studies or job duties.

How does internet addiction affect mental health?

A couple hugging each other and looking and their phones

Internet addiction can affect mental health by contributing to  a range of mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, and heightened stress levels. Individuals with internet addiction often experience anxiety related to their online activities, such as the fear of missing out (FOMO) on social media or the anticipation of incoming messages. 

This constant digital presence can also disrupt sleep patterns, leading to sleep disturbances and sleep disorders, which further exacerbate mental health problems.

The impact of internet addiction on mental health may also manifest as feelings of isolation and loneliness, as individuals may prioritize online interactions over face-to-face relationships. Social isolation can lead to depressive symptoms and a sense of disconnection from the real world. 

Moreover, the neglect of real-life responsibilities, such as work, school, or household duties, can result in stress and guilt, further impacting mental well-being.

What are the long-term cognitive and brain effects of internet addiction?

The long-term brain effects of internet addiction refer to the harmful changes in an individual’s cognitive processes and brain structure or function as a result of excessive internet use. The long-term cognitive and brain effects of internet addiction are listed below. 

  • Abnormal gray matter and white matter volume: An article on brain anatomy from explains that the areas of the brain and spinal cord known as “white matter” are in charge of facilitating communication both between the different gray matter regions and between the gray matter and the body’s other systems. Essentially, the white matter represents the communication pathways while the gray matter is responsible for processing information. Those with internet gaming addiction showed significant lower gray and white matter density in brain regions involved in inhibitory control, decision-making, and emotional self-regulation, according to a 2015 study by Lin et al., published in Addictive Behaviors.
  • Reduced social intelligence: A 2014 study by Uhls et al., published in Computers in Human Behavior compared 51 schoolchildren who spent five days at an overnight nature camp without TV, computers, or smartphones to 54 school-based matched controls who followed their typical media activities (4 hours per day). The research found that screen-free nature campers recognized nonverbal emotional and social signs better after 5 days than screen-timed campers. These results show that avoiding screen time and digital communication tools boosts emotional and social intelligence.
  • Problems with emotional health: Because of the addictive nature of online activities, prolonged and obsessive internet use can have a long-term influence on an individual’s mental well-being. Chronic internet addiction is frequently linked to feelings of isolation, loneliness, and social alienation, all of which are risk factors for long-term emotional health concerns such as depression and anxiety.
  • Reduced attention: Several research have found a connection between symptoms of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and computer use or prolonged screen time. For instance, a 2018 survey by Ra et al., published in JAMA Network found a strong correlation between more frequent usage of digital media and symptoms of ADHD.
  • Disrupted sleep: Internet addiction can interrupt sleep through a variety of mechanisms, resulting in a variety of sleep-related disorders in affected individuals. For instance, children and teenagers with internet addiction may engage in online activities late into the night, leading to delayed bedtimes. This delayed bedtime can reduce the overall duration of sleep, which means they don’t get the amount of restful sleep they need. This can cause mental confusion, tiredness, and emotional instability the next day.

How can internet addiction affect low work outputs for adults? 

A man and woman looking at their phones.

Internet addiction can significantly impact work outputs for adults in several ways. First, individuals struggling with internet addiction may spend excessive time online, often at the expense of their work-related tasks. 

Frequent interruptions to check social media, engage in online gaming, or consume online content can lead to reduced productivity and an inability to maintain focus on work assignments. This can result in missed deadlines and lower-quality work.

Moreover, internet addiction can lead to sleep disturbances, as individuals may stay up late engaging in online activities. This lack of sleep can result in fatigue, decreased cognitive function, and impaired decision-making, all of which contribute to reduced work performance. Chronic sleep deprivation can also lead to health issues, further affecting an individual’s ability to meet work demands.

Internet addiction can also cause emotional distress, including anxiety and depression, which can spill over into the workplace. Employees experiencing these emotional challenges may struggle to concentrate, engage with coworkers, or handle workplace stress effectively, further hampering their work outputs.

How to prevent internet addiction?

Preventing internet addiction involves adopting proactive strategies and developing healthy online habits. The ways to prevent internet addiction are listed below.

  • Set Goals: When having concerns regarding their internet use, people often jump to the steps they can take to prevent addiction. However, setting goals should be the priority – a step that many people overlook when they start to notice a habit of turning to the internet consistently. When you set goals for yourself, you have a system to fall back on. You also have guidance that can help you make important decisions. The goals should focus on providing details on how you should use the internet and what type of rules you set for yourself in order to prevent the development of an addiction.
  • Remove the temptation: Similar to other types of addictions, when the temptation is there, it’s easier to give in to these urges. Removing these temptations is an important step in reducing one’s risk of developing internet addiction in the first place. Delete social media apps from your smartphone and limit them only to your computer. If you charge your phone, place it in another room. This helps to limit your access to temptation.
  • Block unnecessary websites: Distractions often happen when a person navigates to a website they don’t really need, but provides a level of entertainment. This can affect focus and performance. Blocking websites that you know will adversely affect your ability to continue with your work or other activities is a great way to further prevent the development of internet addiction.
  • Unplug the router: When internet addiction seems to become a problem throughout the household, unplug the router completely at specified times, such as when everyone goes to bed. This can be an excellent way to ensure you limit your own and other household members’ internet usage.
  • Implement healthy activities: Replacing the urge to browse the internet or play online games all day with a couple of alternatives, healthier activities can also be very helpful. This would also help you avoid the temptation, which can help to reduce the urge to use the internet.
  • Take advantage of relaxation techniques: Some people turn to online games, streaming services, or the internet in general as a way of escaping stressful situations. There are healthier ways to relax. Yoga, meditation, or a hot bath are all great alternatives that can relax the body and mind without the internet.
  • Tech-free bedroom: Removing technology from the bedroom is a great way to reduce  screen time and limit access to the internet. It’s also a strategy that will reduce blue light exposure prior to sleep, which can help avoid sleep disturbances.
  • Focus on hobbies: Consider focusing on some of the hobbies you used to enjoy when you want to cut down on internet usage.  You can even consider taking up a new hobby – focus on things that don’t require screen time or the internet. This way, you’ll have something to keep you busy and get your mind to focus on things other than online services.
  • Disable notifications: One of the most distracting things with modern-day technology is often those notifications that come through randomly as you go about your daily routine. This is one way in which technology continues to contribute to internet addiction. Turning off the notifications is a great way to remain focused on work, school, and other tasks that are important. You can keep notifications on for important apps, especially when you use them for work or to communicate with your family. Consider turning off the notifications for games and apps that are not necessarily as important.

What are the tips for parents to manage internet addiction in teens?

Parents trying to stop child from online gaming.

Tips for parents to manage internet addiction in teens include open communication, education on internet safety, setting clear boundaries, leading by example, encouraging offline activities, and creating tech-free family moments. 

Addressing internet addiction in teenagers is essential, and parents can take several steps to effectively handle this issue. Communication is a cornerstone of the approach. Parents should create an open and non-judgmental space for their teenagers to talk about their online experiences, concerns, and challenges. This strengthens trust and allows parents to better understand the situation.

Education on internet safety is also one of the most important tips for parents to manage internet addiction in teens. Parents should teach their teenagers about online risks, including cyberbullying, privacy concerns, and the potential impact on mental health. Ensuring that teenagers are well-informed about responsible online behavior is vital.

Setting clear boundaries is equally important. Parents can establish firm but fair rules for screen time, such as defining limits on daily internet use, designating tech-free times and zones in the home, and setting guidelines for age-appropriate content.

Parents should also lead by example. Demonstrating responsible internet use by disconnecting from screens and engaging in offline activities can reinforce the importance of balance to teenagers.

Encouraging offline activities, such as hobbies, sports, and social interactions, provides a healthy alternative to excessive screen time. This helps teenagers find fulfillment beyond the online world.

Finally, creating tech-free family moments, such as shared meals or family outings, strengthens bonds and promotes face-to-face interactions. Such moments can be significant in reducing screen time and fostering family connections.

How to overcome internet addiction? 

In overcoming internet addiction, the first crucial step is to acknowledge that internet addiction is a problem that needs attention. Self-awareness and acceptance are key. Next, set clear and achievable goals for reducing internet use. 

These goals can include specific limits on daily screen time, the establishment of tech-free times, or dedicating more time to offline activities.

In severe cases, seeking professional help is advisable. A mental health professional or therapist who specializes in digital addiction can provide valuable guidance and therapeutic interventions. Additionally, leverage technology to your advantage by using apps and features that help limit screen time, send reminders, and block access to addictive websites or apps.

To establish a healthier balance, create a daily routine that includes time for offline activities, such as exercise, hobbies, social interactions, and relaxation. Mindfulness is essential in this process, as it allows you to be aware of your online activities and emotional responses to them, aiding in regaining control.

Does limiting screen time help overcome internet addiction? 

girl holding a black iphone

Yes, limiting screen time can help overcome internet addiction. Internet addiction often develops from uncontrolled and excessive screen time, with individuals becoming engrossed in various online activities. 

By imposing and adhering to specific limits on screen time, individuals can regain control over their internet use and reduce addictive behaviors. This approach creates boundaries that differentiate between online and offline life, facilitating a healthier balance. 

It also reduces exposure to the internet’s addictive elements, offering fewer opportunities for individuals to engage in problematic behaviors. By limiting screen time, individuals can have more chances to engage in offline activities, fostering a positive alternative to internet addiction. 

It enhances self-control, as adhering to these limits requires discipline and willpower, helping individuals develop a healthier relationship with technology.

Can the school help manage kids’ internet addiction?

Yes, schools can play a vital role in helping manage kids’ internet addiction. As technology is increasingly integrated into education, schools have a responsibility to ensure that students use the internet in a responsible and balanced manner. 

Schools can provide education and awareness programs about digital literacy, online risks, and responsible internet use. They can implement and enforce internet use policies that set clear expectations and consequences for students. 

Schools can also employ web filtering and monitoring tools to restrict access to inappropriate content and ensure that students use the internet for educational purposes during school hours. 

Additionally, creating tech-free zones, promoting offline activities, offering counseling services, and involving parents in addressing internet addiction are all ways in which schools can contribute to managing this issue. 

By taking a proactive approach to digital education and promoting responsible online behavior, schools can help students develop a healthier relationship with the internet and reduce the risk of internet addiction.