When we refer to addiction, we are usually talking about substance addiction, but our understanding of addiction has broadened to encompass all sorts of process addictions like gambling and eating and more recently the addiction to social media. Whilst the consequences are different to those experienced by substance addicts in terms of criminal behaviour and physical harm, the impact emotionally, spiritually and mentally experienced by the addict and those around them are strikingly similar.
The Impact on Children
The addict is preoccupied, emotionally unavailable and engaged in what appears to be obsessive and compulsive behaviour. If we are unable to moderate our smart phone use it will have a negative impact on our own lives and the lives of our loved ones, and particularly the mental health of our kids, much like any other addiction. Perhaps unsurprisingly the children of those who are unable to curtail their obsessive smartphone checking have been found to be more aggressive, more prone to crying and more likely stop reaching out when distressed.
The Rise in Usage
Millennials, those born between 1984 and 2005, experience technology in a different way to those generations which came before, and are technology native. An adult of 45 and under uses an average four digital devices daily, and smartphone use has increased by 90% between 2013 and 2017 - a quite staggering rise in usage.
Jason Shiers - A Psychotherapist with www.recovery.org.uk says, 'Technology addiction does have real life consequences, financial consequences as people become less effective and present at work, and interpersonal consequences. Technology is changing us many ways. The mental health field continues to adapt and develop it's understanding to meet the needs of our changing society'.
Interestingly, as the addiction of choice has changed with the generations, there has been a 20% rise in the proportion of 16 to 24-year-olds who are teetotal. Whilst this statistic seems like a positive, it may be not being entirely so, it may be indicative of increasing isolation as young people spend more time in a virtual world rather than in the pub with friends as they did in the past.
Who Benefits from Our Addiction?
These observations are perhaps not so surprising considering that social media/ apps are created to be addictively engaging and they are monetised. Our addictive natures are being hijacked by advertisers and those with a political agenda. The neurological process that fuels technology addiction is utilising the same reward centres of the brain as opioid addiction.
It is healthy to hang on to some cynicism and resistance regarding our use of social media and if possible challenge the compulsive urges you experience. Make time to put the phone down, even go out without it, put it in a different room and talk to your family.
Be mindful of how you are interacting with the world. Is your behaviour serving you, your life and your loved ones? If not, who is it serving?