Monday, September 23, 2013

Can we be Addicted to our Electronics?

The world is changing rapidly around us. The information age of the Twenty-First Century has resulted in great advances, which have worked to our advantage. Electronic filing and service, computer aided research, e-mail, smart phones, texting, social media, blogs . . .. There are a myriad of digital opportunities open to us all every day. Can it be too much? I recently learned that the first "hospital based recovery program in the United States" is being offered in Pennsylvania. This is also the "first ever Digital Device Treatment Program in the nation." Medical treatment to assist with putting these devices down. 

This program is being offered at the Bradford Regional Medical Center in Bradford, PA. It is designed for adults not minors. Any parent might tell you that signs of "digital device" addiction in teenagers today is axiomatic. We have all seen those photos of four young people around a restaurant table, not conversing, but each and every one texting on their smart phones. Some evidence supports that young people today are spending as much time playing video games as they spend watching television. Boys apparently spend more time on them than girls. 

The Bradford Center program is designed for those who believe they are using the internet or electronic devices excessively. The program defines addiction as "any online-related, compulsive behavior which interferes with normal living and causes severe stress on family, friends, loved ones, and one’s work environment." Patients will have attempted to limit or eliminate their use, and will have been unsuccessful. Having failed to confine or refine their digital connections, patients are voluntarily admitted for ten days hospitalization focused on diminishing the influence of technology on his or her life. 

The promotional material proposes the following criteria by which we might determine our need for such a program

Meeting five of the following symptoms were considered necessary to be diagnosed:
  • Do you feel preoccupied with the Internet? (Think about previous online activity or anticipate next online session)
  • Do you feel the need to use the Internet with increasing amounts of time in order to achieve satisfaction?
  • Have you repeatedly made unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back, or stop Internet use?
  • Do you feel restless, moody, depressed, or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop Internet use?
  • Do you stay online longer than originally intended?
  • Have you jeopardized or risked the loss of significant relationship, job, educational or career opportunity because of the Internet?
  • Have you lied to family members, therapist, or others to conceal the extent of involvement with the Internet?
  • Do you use the Internet as a way of escaping from problems or of relieving a dysphoric mood (e.g., feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety, depression)?

Other Symptoms Include:

  • Failed attempts to control behavior
  • Heightened sense of euphoria while involved in computer and internet activities
  • Neglecting friends and family
  • Neglecting sleep to stay online
  • Being dishonest with others
  • Feeling guilty, ashamed, anxious, or depressed as a result of online behavior
  • Physical changes such as weight gain or loss, backaches, headaches, carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Withdrawing from other pleasurable activities
Digital devices can be a great benefit to us, and allow us to be more productive. However, it now appears that there is an argument that we can become too dependent upon digital equipment and the information superhighway to which they provide access. While I am not sure that I know anyone whose affinity for the internet has risen to the levels described by the Pennsylvania plan, it is perhaps appropriate to ask these questions of ourselves. Possibly one might avert attention from these devices before their use reaches the treatment stage?

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