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Digital addiction: types, causes, symptoms, and treatment

Reading time: 18 mins
Digital addiction

Digital addiction is the uncontrollable and compulsive utilization of digital tools and digital media. This behavior results in detrimental outcomes across multiple facets of an individual’s life-disrupting one’s relationships, work, or academic pursuits and overall well-being.

Types of digital addiction are addiction to the internet, social media, gaming, smartphones, online shopping, streaming, cybersex, information overload, email, and online gambling. 

Causes of digital addiction include social influences, psychological factors, genetic influence, escapism and coping mechanisms, environmental factors, neurochemical effects, attention deficit issues, personality traits, low self-esteem, accessibility and affordability, marketing and persuasive design, and rewards and reinforcement.

Symptoms of digital addiction encompass anxiety, depression, agitation, social isolation, defensiveness, negligence, feelings of guilt, headaches, back or shoulder pain, vision problems, insomnia, poor hygiene and nutrition, and gain or loss in weight.

Treatment of digital addiction necessitates a comprehensive approach that comprises individual therapy, support groups, digital detox programs, family therapy, and, when appropriate, medication. These interventions aim to promote healthier relationships with technology and overall well-being.

What is Digital addiction?

Digital addiction is the various forms of addictive behavior related to technology, including but not limited to internet addiction, gaming addiction, and the growing concern of social media addiction. Digital addiction extends beyond mere internet usage and includes both online and offline activities facilitated by digital devices. For instance, offline game addiction falls under the umbrella of digital addiction, illustrating the broad scope of problematic behaviors associated with technology dependency.

Digital addiction is the impulsive, excessive, and uncontrolled use of digital devices, technologies, and platforms. It lies within the field of cyberpsychology, which investigates excessive use of digital media, devices, and platforms characterized by obsessive behaviors.

In an era where the use of digital gadgets is rapidly increasing, there’s a growing concern about the possibility of dependency. It is a form of chronic behavior that affects reward, motivation, memory, and related functions in the brain. Dysfunction in these areas leads to various biological, psychological, and social issues, manifesting in compulsive substance use or other behaviors to seek reward or relief.
The American Journal of Psychiatry published an Editorial issue in 2008 titled “Issues for DSM-V: Internet Addiction” highlighting the complexities surrounding the formal recognition of digital addiction. While the DSM-5 doesn’t explicitly identify “digital addiction” as a standalone disorder, it does acknowledge conditions like internet gaming and gambling disorder.

How common is Digital addiction?

Digital addiction is common, encompassing various forms of excessive technology use that interfere with daily functioning. In 2019, 28% of global adults reported going online constantly, marking an increase from 21% in 2015. This data, outlined in the article “Digital Addiction: A Conceptual Overview” by Amarjit Kumar Singh and Pawan Kumar Singh, published by the Libraries at University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2019, underscores the growing prevalence of near-constant internet usage among adults. Additionally, the study found that 64% of people now spend up to four hours daily with digital devices. These include the internet, smartphones, social networks, gaming, and other online active devices.

The article “Global prevalence of digital addiction in the general population: A systematic review and meta-analysis” published in the journal Clinical Psychology Review in 2022, authored by Shi-Qiu Meng et al reported significant findings of the global prevalence of digital addiction as 26.99% for smartphones, 17.42% for social media, 14.22% for internet, 8.23% for cybersex, and 6.04% for games. Additionally, a greater occurrence of digital addiction was observed in the eastern mediterranean region and countries with low or lower-middle incomes.

Why is Digital technology addictive?

Digital technology is addictive due to a combination of psychological, social, and technology design factors. Psychologically, digital platforms exploit the brain’s reward system by triggering dopamine release through activities like gaming, social media engagement, and online shopping. 

The article “Relationship between peripheral blood dopamine level and internet addiction disorder in adolescents: a pilot study” published in the International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Medicine in 2015 by Min Liu and Jianghong Luo, investigates the correlation between peripheral blood dopamine levels and internet addiction disorder (IAD). 

The study found that individuals with IAD had significantly higher levels of peripheral blood plasma dopamine compared to the control group. These findings implicate dopamine as a key neurotransmitter in the brain. The dopamine affects decision-making and impulsivity in the technology users by stimulating the brain’s reward system inducing a state of euphoria.

Individuals experiencing anxiety, depression, or a lack of emotional support often seek solace in digital media. These social platforms encourage validation-seeking behavior via likes and comments, leading to increasing interaction. Exposure to idealized lives on social media evokes feelings of inadequacy, prompting prolonged usage. Online gaming fosters strong communities, making it challenging to disconnect.

Additionally, technology design features of digital platforms encourage their prolonged use through autoplay and personalized content, facilitated by easy and widespread smartphone access.

What are the types of Digital addiction?

The types of digital addiction are listed below.

  • Internet addiction
  • Social media addiction
  • Gaming addiction
  • Smartphone addiction (nomophobia)
  • Online shopping addiction
  • Streaming addiction
  • Cybersex addiction
  • Information overload
  • Email addiction
  • Online gambling addiction

1. Internet addiction    

Internet addiction is a type of behavioral addiction characterized by excessive and compulsive internet use that interferes with a person’s daily functioning and subsequently causes distress. Internet addiction is characterized by an individual’s struggle to reduce their internet usage despite multiple attempts, a decreased interest in previously enjoyed activities, persistent use of internet-connected devices despite negative outcomes, and difficulty fulfilling obligations at home, work, or school. 

Internet addiction stands out due to factors like its easy accessibility and integration into daily life, diverse forms targeting specific activities, and reliance on psychological rather than physical dependence. Ongoing research seeks to understand its long-term impacts, reflecting its evolving nature in comparison to established addictions.

A study suggested that individuals engaging with computer applications experience rewards across multiple levels, serving as stimuli for users. This observation is discussed in the article “Internet Addiction: A Brief Summary of Research and Practice” by Hilarie Cash et al, published in the Clinical Psychiatry Reviews Journal in 2012. The article investigates findings indicating depression, anxiety, hostility, sensitive relationships, and psychotic symptoms as an outcome of internet addiction.

2. Social media addiction

guy sitting on laptop

Social media addiction is the excessive compulsive behavior of using social media platforms. This addiction is characterized by an overwhelming urge to constantly check social media feeds, spending excessive amounts of time engaging with social media content, and experiencing withdrawal symptoms when unable to access social media platforms.

Recognizing the negative impacts of social media in the critical stages of brain development during adolescence and childhood, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services underscored the potential risks posed to the mental well-being of children and adolescents in a 2023 advisory titled “Surgeon General Issues New Advisory About Effects Social Media Use Has on Youth Mental Health.” This acknowledgment comes amidst the detrimental effects of social media addiction including decreased academic performance, heightened anxiety, irritability, depression, and mood swings.

3. Gaming addiction

Gaming addiction is the uncontrollable use of video games, where an individual prioritizes gaming over other daily activities and continues gaming despite experiencing negative consequences. Massive multiplayer online role-playing games, known for their immersive and ongoing narratives, pose a heightened risk of addiction compared to other game types due to their enticing nature and continuous unfolding narratives.

The 11th edition of International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) acknowledges gaming addiction as a gaming disorder, whereas American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5-TR), refers to it as internet gaming disorder (IGD). This addictive gaming behavior usually requires at least 12 months of symptoms, but in severe cases, this duration can be shortened if all criteria are met.

Tao Luo et al in their research titled “Diagnostic Contribution of the DSM-5 Criteria for Internet Gaming Disorder” published in Frontiers in Psychiatry in 2021, state five or more specific criteria to diagnose internet gaming disorder (IGD) as mentioned in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. These include preoccupation with gaming, withdrawal symptoms, increased time spent gaming, loss of control, neglect of other activities, continued excessive use despite problems, deception about gaming habits, using gaming to cope with negative emotions, and experiencing negative consequences.

4. Smartphone addiction (nomophobia)

Smartphone addiction is the overuse of smartphones. It is commonly known as nomophobia, which stands for “no mobile phone phobia”. People with smartphone addiction find themselves constantly checking their devices, even in inappropriate or potentially dangerous situations. They prioritize virtual interactions over face-to-face communication and experience negative emotions like anxiety, loneliness, or insecurity when separated from their phones. 

As of now, the DSM-V doesn’t categorize nomophobia as an official disorder. However, its symptoms align with those of situation-specific phobia, characterized by irrational and disproportionate fear responses to perceived threats.

However, scholars have consistently pushed for its incorporation into the DSM-V, suggesting that this addition would provide clinicians with a useful diagnostic resource and encourage advancements in the field. This viewpoint was expressed in a 2014 article published in the journal Psychology Research and Behavior Management, titled “A proposal for including nomophobia in the new DSM-V” authored by Nicola Luigi Bragazzi and Giovanni Del Puente.

5. Online shopping addiction

Online shopping addiction is the impulsive and obsessive unnecessary purchase of products. This behavior leads them to browse internet retail platforms and accumulate possessions frequently. The individuals afflicted with this condition feel an irresistible urge to purchase despite knowing its negative consequences.

The allure of online shopping lies in its convenience, accessibility, and vast selection of products, providing instant gratification and a sense of fulfillment. However, for those grappling with online shopping addiction, this behavior leads to financial strain, emotional distress, and strain on personal relationships. 

The study titled “Impact of Online Shopping Addiction on Compulsive Buying Behavior and Life Satisfaction Among University Students” authored by Anum Durrani et al and published in the ASEAN Journal of Psychiatry in 2022, explores the negative correlation between online shopping addiction and life satisfaction, indicating that individuals affected by this addiction tend to experience deficiencies in emotional fulfillment, feelings of loneliness, and reduced overall life satisfaction.

Six characteristics of online shopping addiction were identified by Susan Rose and Arun Dhandayudham in their paper titled “Towards an understanding of Internet-based problem shopping behaviour: The concept of online shopping addiction and its proposed predictors” published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions in 2014. These include salience, euphoria, tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, conflict, and relapse. The article highlights the association between online addiction and arousal, suggesting that graphics, engaging dialogue, and notifications on shopping platforms provide continuous stimulation and temptation, resulting in cognitive overload that leads to a lack of self-control.

6. Streaming addiction

Streaming addiction refers to the extreme consumption of audio or visual content, disregarding its detrimental impact on emotional and social well-being. Individuals experiencing streaming addiction often find themselves feeling worse after extended periods of viewing or listening, yet struggle to control their addictive behavior.

Streaming holds addictive potential for various reasons. Firstly, platforms offer immediate access to a vast array of content, fulfilling the need for instant entertainment. Additionally, the wide variety of genres and titles available entices users to explore and consume more content. The prevalent binge-watching culture, where viewers immerse themselves in a series or multiple episodes, fuels addiction as individuals become engrossed in storylines and feel compelled to continue watching. Moreover, streaming serves as a form of escapism, providing temporary relief from stress or boredom.

Social features embedded within streaming platforms facilitate connections and community among users, further reinforcing addictive behaviors. Furthermore, personalized recommendations based on viewing history enhance engagement and encourage prolonged usage. 

Lastly, the convenience of accessing content anytime, anywhere, on multiple devices seamlessly integrates streaming into daily routines, making it challenging for users to moderate their consumption or disengage. 

The study titled Effect and Mechanisms of State Boredom on Consumers’ Livestreaming Addiction authored by Nan Zhang and Jian Li, and published in Frontiers in Psychology in 2022, revealed that boredom contributes to livestreaming addiction. The research found that individuals experiencing boredom are driven by sensation seeking to engage in addictive behaviors on live streaming platforms. Individuals with a low perception of life’s meaning struggle to control their behavior when bored, leading to an amplification of sensation seeking and reinforcement of live streaming addiction.

7. Cybersex addiction

Cybersex addiction is the compulsive and excessive engagement in sexual activities facilitated by the internet or digital technology. 

Cybersex addiction manifests in various forms, including reading erotic literature, viewing or downloading pornography, participating in online sexual communication, masturbating while engaging in online sexual activities, seeking sexual partners online, searching for information on sexual topics, and other similar online sexual behaviors.

Cybersex addiction is marked by several distinct features including the internet’s accessibility and anonymity making it effortless for individuals to engage in cybersex activities, regardless of their location or identity. This anonymity fosters a sense of freedom, allowing users to interact with strangers from around the globe. The allure of cybersex leads to a rapid escalation of addiction, as individuals seek out increasingly intense and explicit experiences to fulfill their desires. 

The research study titled “Cybersex addiction: an overview of the development and treatment of a newly emerging disorder,” published in the Medical Journal of Indonesia in 2020 by I Gusti Ngurah Agastya et al, highlights the detrimental effects of cybersex addiction on individuals leading to various negative consequences, including problems in relationships, financial difficulties, and psychiatric issues such as major depression and anxiety disorders. 

Individuals with cybersex addiction spend significant amounts of money and risk losing their jobs due to excessive preoccupation with sexual activities facilitated by the internet. Feelings of guilt, low self-confidence, and engagement in criminal activities related to sexual content further exacerbate the challenges individuals face in their social environments.    

8. Information overload

couple sitting on the phone

Information overload refers to the sensation of being inundated by the sheer volume of information encountered. It extends beyond mere data abundance, encompassing the struggle to efficiently process, comprehend, or utilize the vast array of available information.

Excessive information leads to sensory overload, resulting in a diminished attention span and an inability to effectively process or respond to overwhelming stimuli.

Information overload has several ill effects including decision paralysis which often occurs when individuals feel overwhelmed, making it challenging to make even simple choices. The constant pressure to stay updated and process vast amounts of information leads to stress and anxiety, causing mental fatigue. This mental strain results in reduced productivity as individuals struggle to focus amidst the influx of information.

In more severe cases, information overload contributes to burnout and exacerbates existing mental health issues, highlighting the importance of managing information consumption effectively.

In the 2022 publication titled “Information overload: a concept analysis” by Mohamed Amine Belabbes et al published in the Journal of Documentation, the authors identified triggers, manifestations, and consequences of information overload. Triggers encompass various factors such as information characteristics, individual information needs, the working environment, cognitive abilities, and the overall information environment. Manifestations of information overload were observed to occur both emotionally and cognitively. Furthermore, the consequences of information overload extended to both internal and external domains.

9. Email addiction

Email addiction refers to an irresistible and excessive reliance on checking, responding to, or obsessing over emails. It’s characterized by an inability to control the urge to constantly check and respond to emails, often leading to negative consequences such as decreased productivity, increased stress, and impaired personal relationships. 

People with email addiction feel anxious or uneasy when unable to access their email and prioritize email over other important tasks or activities. Like other forms of addiction, email addiction interferes with daily functioning and quality of life.

A study published in the Brain Sciences Journal by Saeid Sadeghi et al in 2022, titled “Brain Anatomy Alterations and Mental Health Challenges Correlate to Email Addiction Tendency” highlights that individuals with a higher dependence on email tend to experience heightened symptoms of depression and demonstrate greater deficits in nonverbal reasoning ability. Furthermore, a clear link between an increased tendency towards email addiction and an escalation in depression symptoms, along with impairments in abstract reasoning ability was established.

10. Online gambling addiction

Online gambling addiction is considered a progressive form of addiction categorized under impulse-control disorders. It entails persistent and recurrent engagement in gambling activities, leading to substantial harm to one’s financial stability, relationships, as well as physical and mental health.

Online gambling addiction fosters excessive spending, often unnoticed by users. It includes online casinos, poker, and sports betting. Despite the convenience, it poses risks like addiction, financial woes, and fraud due to its easy access and lack of regulation.
The article “How gambling affects the brain and who is most vulnerable to addiction” published by the American Psychological Association in 2023 and authored by Emily Sohn, highlights that approximately 96% of individuals grappling with gambling issues contend with at least one additional psychiatric disorder. Among them, substance use disorders, impulse-control disorders, mood disorders, and anxiety disorders are prevalent.

What are the causes of Digital addiction?

The causes of digital addiction are listed below.

  • Social influences: Peer pressure, social norms, and the desire to fit in or keep up with others’ online activities contribute to digital addiction.
  • Psychological factors: Underlying mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) lead individuals to use digital devices as a coping mechanism, which escalates into addiction.
  • Genetic influence: Genetic predispositions influence personality traits, mental health conditions, and brain reward system variations, increasing susceptibility to excessive digital usage and potential addiction.
  • Escapism and coping mechanisms: Digital devices and online activities offer a means of escape from real-life stressors, boredom, or negative emotions, leading individuals to use them excessively as coping mechanisms.
  • Environmental factors: Factors like lack of parental monitoring or conflict within families create an environment where excessive digital use goes.
  • Neurochemical effects: Engaging in digital activities stimulates the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter linked to pleasure and reward, establishing a reinforcement cycle.
  • Attention deficit issues: Difficulty focusing or regulating attention leads to excessive digital use as a form of self-stimulation.
  • Personality traits: Personality traits such as impulsivity, sensation-seeking, and social anxiety can increase vulnerability to digital addiction due to its instant gratification and escapism potential. Additionally, social pressure and norms, including the fear of missing out (FOMO) and the pressure to maintain an online presence, further fuel excessive digital engagement. 
  • Low self-esteem: Individuals with low self-esteem seek validation, acceptance, and approval from others on digital platforms through likes, comments, or followers. This dependency can perpetuate excessive digital usage.
  • Accessibility and affordability: Widespread devices and internet access make it easier to fall into excessive digital use.
  • Marketing and persuasive design: Tech companies often use persuasive design elements that exploit psychological vulnerabilities, making it harder to disengage from their platforms.
  • Rewards and reinforcement: The instant gratification and rewards provided by digital activities, such as likes on social media or achievements in gaming, reinforce addictive behaviors.

What are the symptoms of Digital addiction?

The symptoms of digital addiction are listed below.

  • Anxiety: Feeling a sense of unease, worry, or apprehension, especially when unable to access digital devices or fulfill online activities.
  • Depression: Experiencing feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or low mood, potentially triggered or exacerbated by excessive digital use.
  • Agitation: Feeling restless, irritable, or agitated when unable to access digital devices or engage in online activities.
  • Social isolation: Withdrawing from in-person social interactions or neglecting real-life relationships favoring online connections.
  • Defensiveness: Becoming defensive or irritable when confronted about digital use or its impact on daily life.
  • Negligence: Procrastinating or neglecting work or other responsibilities in favor of digital activities.
  • Digital guilt: Experiencing remorse or self-blame for excessive digital use or neglecting responsibilities.
  • Back or shoulder pain: Discomfort or soreness in the back or shoulders, often caused by poor posture or prolonged sitting while using digital devices.
  • Headaches: Persistent or recurrent pain in the head, often triggered by eye strain or tension from staring at screens for extended periods.
  • Vision problems: Difficulty focusing, blurry vision, or eye discomfort resulting from prolonged exposure to digital screens, known as digital eye strain or computer vision syndrome.
  • Insomnia: Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, often attributed to excessive screen time before bed, which disrupts the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle.
  • Lack of proper hygiene: Neglecting personal hygiene habits, such as showering or brushing teeth, due to excessive digital use or preoccupation with online activities.
  • Poor nutrition: Consuming an imbalanced diet or neglecting regular meals and proper nutrition due to excessive screen time or prioritizing digital activities over healthy eating habits.
  • Weight gain or loss: Experiencing fluctuations in body weight, either gaining or losing weight unintentionally, which result from sedentary behavior associated with excessive digital use or changes in eating patterns.

How is Digital addiction diagnosed?

Digital addiction is diagnosed through a complex and evolving process. While digital addiction isn’t a formal diagnosis recognized in major diagnostic manuals like the DSM-5, which is used by mental health professionals worldwide, clinicians employ several methods for assessment. Clinical assessment involves interviews and evaluations to assess symptoms, patterns of use, and potential impacts on daily life, considering co-occurring mental health conditions or contributing factors. Screening tools, such as self-assessment questionnaires, aid in identifying potential problematic digital use but don’t provide a precise diagnosis. Additionally, behavioral measures like tracking screen time and online activity patterns offer insights into behavior but do not fully capture psychological dependence.

As outlined in the 2022 article titled “Combatting digital addiction: Current approaches and future directions” authored by Deniz Cemiloglu et al and published in the journal Technology in Society, health organizations are increasingly recognizing patterns of digital device use as indicative of underlying conditions. Although there isn’t unanimous agreement regarding the precise delineation of digital addiction, certain behaviors are gaining recognition, such as internet gaming disorder (IGD) as outlined in the DSM-5. It’s important to note that this disorder exists within the DSM-5 framework for further study and exploration, rather than being formally recognized as an official diagnosis at present.

What are the effects of Digital addiction?

The effects of digital addiction are listed below.

  • Impaired mental and emotional well-being: Digital addiction exacerbates existing mental health conditions like anxiety and depression and induces new issues such as isolation and low self-esteem.
  • The ill effect of extended screen time on physical well-being: Prolonged screen time contributes to sleep disturbances, eye strain, and musculoskeletal problems like neck and back pain. In the 2018 article “INTERNET ADDICTION AND ITS IMPACT ON PHYSICAL HEALTH” authored by Nazlıcan Güzel et al and published in the Turkish Medical School Journal, it was revealed that 77.1% of the subjects reported experiencing neck pain. 
  • Decline in academic and professional performance: Excessive digital use hampers focus, concentration, and learning abilities, leading to academic underperformance and decreased work quality.
  • Negative impact on interpersonal relationships: Digital addiction strains relationships with loved ones, resulting in communication breakdowns and reduced social engagement, leading to feelings of loneliness.
  • Financial strain: Uncontrolled spending on digital devices and subscriptions leads to financial difficulties and debt.
  • Productivity decline: Increased digital addiction negatively impacts workforce productivity due to decreased engagement at work.
  • Social isolation and polarization: Excessive reliance on online interactions contributes to social isolation and the spread of misinformation, potentially fueling societal polarization.
  • Privacy and security concerns: Growing digital dependence raises concerns about data privacy, security, and potential manipulation by tech companies.

How does Digital addiction affect sleep?

man holding phone

Digital addiction affects sleep in various ways by disrupting sleep patterns leading to fragmented or interrupted sleep throughout the night as notifications or the urge to check messages disturb sleep cycles, causing frequent awakenings. 

Additionally, spending excessive time on digital devices results in reduced sleep duration, with individuals staying up late engaging in digital activities, leading to shorter and less restful sleep. Furthermore, digital addiction contributes to poor sleep quality characterized by shallow or non-restorative sleep, as the constant stimulation from digital activities over-excites the brain, hindering deep, restful sleep. 

Moreover, chronic sleep deprivation due to digital addiction results in daytime sleepiness, fatigue, and reduced alertness, impacting cognitive function, mood, and productivity during waking hours. Lastly, prolonged digital addiction elevates the risk of developing sleep disorders such as insomnia or sleep apnea, exacerbating sleep disturbances and impairing overall sleep quality. 

The article “Digital Addiction and Sleep” by Birgitta Dresp-Langley and Axel Hutt, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health in 2022, highlights insomnia as a direct consequence of internet addiction. The article highlights that frequent sleep disturbances contribute to absenteeism, errors at work, and accidents while driving. The increasing prevalence of internet abuse among adolescents, with a significant portion going online for extended periods, impacts sleep-wake cycles, leading to insomnia and other sleep disorders.

What are the risk factors for Digital addiction?

The risk factors for digital addiction are listed below.

  • Age: Adolescents and young adults, with their ongoing brain development and the influence of social pressures, are at a heightened risk of developing digital addiction compared to other age groups.
  • Gender: Males exhibit a higher tendency towards specific forms of digital addiction, notably gaming. This gender discrepancy highlights a pattern where males are more susceptible to becoming excessively engaged in gaming activities compared to females.
  • Personality traits: Certain personality traits such as neuroticism, disinhibition, and narcissism heighten the likelihood of developing digital addiction. Individuals with these traits are more prone to engaging in excessive and compulsive behaviours online.
  • Mental health conditions: Individuals with mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, or ADHD are at a heightened risk of developing digital addiction. These conditions contribute to increased reliance on digital devices as a coping mechanism or source of distraction. 
  • Attention-seeking behavior: Attention-seeking behavior contributes to digital addiction by prompting individuals to excessively use online platforms to seek validation and approval, reinforcing compulsive internet usage patterns.  
  • Impulsive behavior: Impulsive behavior increases the risk of digital addiction as it can lead individuals to engage in excessive and compulsive use of digital devices and platforms without considering the potential negative consequences.
  • Unhealthy family dynamics: Unhealthy family relationships or insufficient support compel individuals to seek escape through excessive digital engagement, as a way to cope with familial challenges or emotional distress.  
  • Cultural influences: Cultural influences shape societal attitudes toward technology, normalizing excessive usage. Societies that glorify constant connectivity overlook or downplay the negative consequences of digital addiction, fostering an environment where problematic behaviours are accepted as the norm.

How can Digital addiction be prevented?

Digital addiction can be prevented through a multifaceted approach. Katherine Raz shares various strategies in her article “How to Break a Digital Addiction” published in the Journal of Accountancy in 2018. These include disabling push notifications to maintain focus during work, scheduling specific phone-checking times to minimize distractions, and using visual reminders like sticky notes to encourage mindful usage. Additionally, utilizing app blockers helps enforce time limits on smartphone usage. Engaging in meaningful activities instead of aimless scrolling, avoiding phone use before bed to prevent sleep disturbances, and reevaluating email response expectations for better time management are recommended.

What are the available treatments for Digital addiction?

The available treatments for digital addiction are listed below.

  • Individual therapy: Individual therapy involves one-to-one sessions between a therapist and a client to improve mental well-being. Common therapies for digital addiction include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for managing negative thoughts and behaviors, acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) to accept emotions and align actions with values, and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) for emotional regulation and interpersonal skills.
  • Support groups: Support groups offer invaluable assistance to individuals grappling with similar challenges, providing a platform for mutual support, shared experiences, and accountability. Whether online or in-person, these groups facilitate connections with peers facing similar struggles, fostering a sense of camaraderie and understanding. They cater to specific addictions such as gaming or social media, offering a supportive environment where individuals openly discuss their concerns and receive encouragement from others on their journey to recovery.
  • Digital detox programs: Digital detox programs offer structured periods of abstaining from digital devices and internet access, typically under professional supervision. These programs are conducted in residential or outpatient settings, providing individuals with the support they need to reset their relationship with technology. With guidance from professionals, participants learn healthier habits and regain control over their digital usage, ultimately promoting a more balanced and mindful approach to technology in their lives.
  • Family therapy: Family therapy plays a crucial role in understanding and supporting the recovery process of individuals struggling with digital addiction. By addressing underlying family dynamics that contribute to excessive digital use, family therapy fosters a supportive environment conducive to change. Through open communication and collaboration, family members gain insight into the challenges faced by their loved ones and work together to establish healthier habits and boundaries surrounding technology use. This collaborative approach strengthens familial bonds and promotes lasting recovery.
  • Medications: For individuals with underlying mental health conditions like depression or anxiety alongside digital addiction, medications are beneficial. Antianxiety and antidepressant medications are commonly prescribed to address associated symptoms. A 2023 systematic review in the journal Psychiatry Investigation titled “A Systematic Review of Pharmacological Treatments for Internet Gaming Disorder” showed reduced symptoms of internet gaming disorder (IGD) from pre to post-pharmacological treatment, with reductions ranging from 15.4% to 51.4%.

These treatment approaches include psychostimulants, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, as well as medications that cause non-selective inhibition of dopamine and norepinephrine transporters. 

When is Digital addiction counseling necessary?

Digital addiction counseling is necessary when excessive use of digital devices significantly disrupts activities of daily life, interpersonal relationships, and the overall physical and mental well-being of an individual. 
Indications to seek digital addiction counseling include loss of control over usage, neglect of responsibilities, withdrawal symptoms, social isolation, decline in mental health, inability to focus offline, and failed attempts to cut back. Counseling offers coping strategies for managing the use of technology, addressing triggers, enhancing self-control, and fostering healthier digital habits.

How to help a loved one with Digital addiction?

To help a loved one with digital addiction demands empathy over sympathy. By empathizing with their struggles, you better understand the root causes of their addiction and provide more meaningful support. Moreover, providing education about the signs and impacts of digital addiction and working together to establish realistic goals and explore alternative activities can be beneficial.     

Motivate them to seek assistance from professionals or participate in support groups specifically designed for addressing digital addiction. During their journey towards recovery, continue to demonstrate patience and steadfast support, acknowledging their achievements and providing ongoing encouragement. This approach fosters trust, open communication, and validation, which are crucial for their recovery journey. Engage in honest and empathetic conversations, emphasizing your concern and offering support without judgment.

What is Digital detox?

Digital detox refers to the conscious and temporary reduction or elimination of the use of digital devices and technology. It involves taking a break from activities like browsing the internet, using social media, checking emails, and engaging in other online activities. Digital detox aims to disconnect from the constant stimulation and distractions caused by digital technology. Its goal is to break free from digital distractions, promote mental well-being, reduce stress, and foster offline engagement and personal connections.

There is ongoing research on the effectiveness of detox measures as outlined in the article “Digital Detox” by Milad Mirbabaie et al, published by the journal Business & Information Systems Engineering in 2022. Existing empirical studies present mixed findings regarding the efficacy of digital detox, emphasizing the need for further research. Digital detox is often studied as merely a coping strategy. However, the authors argue that digital detox does not rigidly exclude information technology but rather intelligently incorporates it to support users or organizations in implementing detox strategies. This approach not only aids in coping with technostress but proactively fosters a sense of balance in technology usage.

Does Digital detox cause withdrawal symptoms?

group of friends on the phone

Yes, digital detox causes withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms appear largely as emotional and mental challenges. Restlessness, boredom, and a want for digital interaction are common withdrawal effects of the digital detoxification process. Additionally, many people rely extensively on social media and online platforms for social engagement, therefore disconnection causes feelings of loneliness, isolation, and anxiety about social detachment. Furthermore, for others, their online presence is an important part of their identity and self-worth, therefore detaching causes withdrawal symptoms such as increased insecurity, low self-esteem, and self-worth.