Technology Addiction: Signs and Treatment

Oct 30, 2023

Reviewed by Eric Patterson, LPC

For many people their jobs require them to spend the majority of their workday online. Teens also spend a significant amount of time online, whether engaging with social media, chatting, or playing video games. 

COVID-19 only worsened people’s time online. A 2021 Pew Research study shows that about 30% of adults are online “almost constantly.” While it’s easy to think that this is just teens playing video games, 48% of teens and young adults say they’re constantly, 42% of adults 30-45 fall into the category of being online constantly. While the majority of these people don’t face a technology addiction, some will develop a negative relationship with technology. 

What is Technology Addiction?

Technology addiction, also known as digital addiction or internet addiction, refers to an excessive and compulsive dependency on various technological devices, such as smartphones, computers, the internet, and social media platforms. This behavioral addiction involves an intense urge to use technology, leading to negative impacts on one's daily life, mental health, and relationships. Individuals affected by technology addiction often exhibit withdrawal symptoms when not using devices, neglect real-world responsibilities, experience heightened anxiety, and have difficulty regulating their technology usage. It disrupts social interactions, sleep patterns, and overall well-being. The addiction can manifest through compulsive gaming, social media scrolling, online gambling, or excessive internet use, undermining a person's ability to function normally without technological stimuli.

Causes of Technology Addiction

The causes of technology addiction are complex and multifaceted. Researchers point to factors like brain chemical imbalances, akin to those in drug and alcohol dependency. Changes in brain structure, particularly the prefrontal lobe responsible for task prioritization, may contribute. Additionally, underlying mental health conditions, genetics, and environmental influences play roles, as some individuals may be predisposed to addictive behaviors due to insufficient dopamine receptors or imbalanced neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine.

The findings substantiate the existing hypothesis that people's inclination toward online interactions over face-to-face connections significantly contributes to the emergence of adverse effects linked to problematic Internet usage.

Signs of Internet addiction

While engaging online can be incredibly productive, excessive indulgence can detrimentally impact academic performance, professional pursuits, personal relationships, and mental well-being. When an individual finds more comfort in online connections than in face-to-face interactions or struggles to cease activities like gaming, gambling, or incessant checking of smart devices, they might be grappling with a cyber addiction.

Indications and manifestations of cyber addiction manifest diversely among individuals. Below are some common warning signs:

  • Losing track of time online: Frequently, a person might lose track of time and extend their online presence beyond the initially intended duration. Minutes easily turn into hours, and interruption of online time may provoke irritation or distress.

  • Difficulty completing tasks at work, school, or home: Falling behind on responsibilities such as homework or professional obligations due to unhealthy online habits, causing a need for excessive late-night studying to compensate.

  • Isolation from family and friends: Excessive online engagement might compromise social interactions and neglect relationships. The individual might feel that their online connections understand them better than those in their physical, real-life circle.

  • Feeling guilty or defensive about internet use: Concealing the extent of online engagement, lying about the time spent online, or reacting defensively to concerns from friends, partners, or family regarding excessive screen time.

  • Experiencing a sense of euphoria during internet activities: Turning to the internet for stress relief, emotional support, sexual gratification, or excitement, finding a source of happiness and comfort in online activities.

Effects of Technology Addiction

Technology addiction can lead to various detrimental effects on an individual's life, including:

  • Physical Health: Prolonged screen time can cause physical issues like eye strain, disrupted sleep patterns, musculoskeletal problems, and a sedentary lifestyle, contributing to obesity.

  • Mental Health: Excessive technology use is linked to increased stress, anxiety, depression, and reduced attention spans. 

  • Social Impact: Technology addiction can hinder face-to-face interactions, leading to social isolation, strained relationships, and a decreased sense of community.

  • Academic or Professional Impacts: Reduced productivity, lack of focus, and procrastination due to excessive technology use can harm academic performance or work productivity.

  • Financial Consequences: Online shopping, gambling, or in-app purchases associated with technology addiction can lead to financial strain and debt.

  • Emotional Well-being: Dependency on technology might lead to emotional instability, mood swings, and a decreased sense of fulfillment in real-life experiences.

  • Self-Identity: Over-reliance on social media or online presence can distort self-perception and create an unrealistic sense of self-worth tied to virtual validation.

These effects collectively impact an individual's overall well-being, indicating the importance of addressing and managing technology addiction.

Types of Internet addiction

Various forms of addiction manifest in different ways. Internet addiction can encompass several categories:

  • Sex: Individuals engage in online sexual activities, viewing pornography, or cybersex, neglecting real-world intimate relationships.

  • Relationships: Using online platforms for relationships at the expense of in-person connections, potentially leading to cyber affairs.

  • Compulsions: Using technology to gamble or engage in risky day trading and crypto trading behavior.

  • Games: Excessive gaming, gambling, or online shopping causing financial distress.

  • Information: Obsessive searching and collecting of information.

  • Social Networking: Compulsive monitoring of social media sites, frequently updating profiles and informing others about current activities on platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

Treatment For Technology Addiction

While there is no magic cure for technology addiction, therapists often find success with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). 

Both Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Motivational Interviewing (MI) can be beneficial in addressing technology addiction.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT focuses on identifying and changing the patterns of thinking and behavior associated with addiction. It helps individuals recognize problematic thoughts and behaviors related to technology use.

In the context of technology addiction, CBT can assist by identifying triggers, such as specific situations or emotions, that lead to excessive technology use. It helps in developing coping strategies to manage these triggers, thus reducing the reliance on technology.

Through CBT, individuals learn to reframe their thoughts about technology, challenging irrational beliefs and developing healthier behaviors and attitudes towards its use.

Motivational Interviewing (MI)

Motivational interviewing (MI) is a client-centered approach aimed at strengthening intrinsic motivation for change by navigating and reconciling client ambivalence. Originally crafted to aid individuals in giving up addictive behaviors and acquiring new behavioral competencies, MI employs tactics like open-ended inquiries, reflective listening, affirmation, and summarization to facilitate individuals in articulating their change-related apprehensions. Studies assessing the effectiveness of MI in addressing internet addiction disorder (IA) are lacking. Nevertheless, MI displays a moderate level of efficacy in tackling issues such as alcohol and drug addiction, as well as challenges related to diet and exercise.

Both CBT and MI can be effective tools in addressing technology addiction by addressing underlying behavioral patterns, motivations, and psychological factors contributing to excessive technology use. They provide individuals with the skills, motivation, and support needed to modify their behaviors and regain control over their technology habits.

Some additional treatment options include:

  • Using external stoppers 

  • Setting goals

  • Selective abstinence from certain applications

  • Using cues

  • Making personal inventories

  • Joining support groups

  • Family therapy interventions.

Finding Help for Technology Addiction

Finding help for technology addiction involves seeking professional assistance and support. Individuals can start by consulting therapists or psychologists experienced in behavioral addictions. Many addiction treatment centers offer specialized programs addressing technology dependency. Support groups, such as TechAddiction Anonymous or online forums, provide a sense of community and shared experiences. Self-help resources, books, and mobile apps designed to manage screen time and reduce dependency are also beneficial. It's crucial to establish a support network, set boundaries, and gradually introduce healthier habits to regain control over technology use.


About three-in-ten U.S. adults say they are 'almost constantly' online

Cyber Addiction | Dean of Students | Michigan Tech

Internet addiction - Better Health Channel

Preference for Online Social Interaction: A Theory of Problematic Internet Use and Psychosocial Well-Being - Scott E. Caplan, 2003

​​Internet Addiction: A Brief Summary of Research and Practice - PMC

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