Know the signs of tech addiction

All of us are guilty of overusing our screens, but when does tech consumption become tech addiction?

Tech addiction or obsession is real. In May the World Health Organization recognized gaming disorder as a classifiable disease, and the American Psychological Association now recognizes internet addiction as a provisional diagnosis, meaning one that isn’t definitive but needs more information.

“It’s reaching a pinnacle in terms of recognition in the medical community and also the government and private sector,” said Dr. David Greenfield, founder and medical director of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction and assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine.

Out of balance

Roughly 8 in 10 Americans go online daily, and 28% are online “almost constantly,” according to a 2019 Pew Research Center survey.

Technology has changed our lives for the better in many ways, but it’s also affecting our sleep and health, social connections and productivity.

Just like any other addiction, increased availability and faster access equals an increase in use and possibility for addiction, said Greenfield, author of “Virtual Addiction,” written in 1998.

“Addiction is based on a pleasure system: You need more to feel good, which is why kids who play 30 minutes one day need to play for longer the next,” said Dr. Larry D. Rosen, professor emeritus and past chair of the psychology department at California State University, Dominguez Hills.

Rather than having a common and distinct definition, tech addiction can be explained by looking at measures such as behaviors, said Rosen, author of “The Distracted Mind.”

Does a user need more to feel good? Does a user ignore the rest of the world such as work, chores, school or hobbies? Do they lie about the behavior (“I just played for 20 minutes”)? Do they lose track of time?

“The average prescribed use of screens is about two hours a day, but most people use their screens much more,” Greenfield said. Adolescents may use their screens up to eight hours a day.

That time isn’t related to productivity, Greenfield said, so it doesn’t count for school- or work-related screen time.

The biggest way tech overuse and addiction affects health is through lack of sleep, Greenfield said.

“Screen use is eating away time from other aspects of life and taking away from balanced living,” he said.

Loosen the tether

Advocating for a digital detox is not the answer because we need our screens, but there are many ways to be less tethered to them, Rosen said:

• Turn off as many notification alerts as possible. That little jolt of sound and/or vibration is negatively jarring and hard to ignore.

• Do not spend more than 90 minutes using a screen outside of work or school. Afterward, take a 10-minute break.

• Limit the amount of icons on your home screen, and hide games and other time-wasting apps in folders on the second or third pages of your home screen.

Greenfield adds:

• Turn your phone to grayscale, which will potentially make the phone less appealing and stimulating.

• Remove screens from children’s and teens’ bedrooms, and never use a phone as an alarm clock.