Technology and its effect on mental health

Technology and its effect on mental health

New visual media such as iPads, smartphones, laptops, X-box and computers have become social norms of the millennium. These technological instruments play a huge role in communication, social engagement, organization, planning work and personal goals; they are also gaining a reputation as a source of addiction, as well as a reflection of mental health and emotion.

Internet addiction disorder

There is a considerable controversy in regards to the phrase “Internet addiction”. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition refers to this behavior as a combination of “addiction” and compulsive or impulsive behaviors. There is sufficient evidence to conclude that Internet addiction is a manifestation of any other underlying disorder or that it is truly an addiction or a disease of the brain, even though it meets all of the criteria of how addiction is defined. However, it is considered a disorder.

Internet gaming disorder is a pattern of excessive and prolonged gaming resulting in a cluster of cognitive and behavioral symptoms. This includes progressive loss of control over gaming, tolerance and withdrawal symptoms synonymous with substance addictions. People with Internet gaming disorder usually devote eight to 10 hours or more per day to gaming, or at least 30 hours per week and any attempts to redirect such an individual towards other activities are resisted.

According to the DSM-5, more research may lead to evidence of gaming and Internet addiction as an independent disorder. Studies suggest that Internet gaming disorders and other technological addictive behaviors are similar to attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in that they have a significant impulsive and compulsive component.

The release of dopamine forms the basis for all addictions, as well as with gaming and Internet addictions. The compulsion to check text messages, Facebook, email, online tabloid articles, latest news or tweets are all driven by dopamine releases that occur in anticipation of receiving excitement, whether that comes from good news or sensationalism.

Internet addiction disorder criteria according to the Diagnostic Statistical Manual – 5th Edition

  • Preoccupation with Internet games
  • Withdrawal symptoms when Internet gaming is taken away
  • Unsuccessful attempts to control the participation in Internet games
  • Loss of interests in previous hobbies and entertainment
  • Continued excessive use of Internet games despite knowledge of psychosocial problems
  • Has deceived family members, therapists or others regarding the amount of Internet gaming actually being played
  • Use of Internet games to escape or relieve a negative mood (e.g., feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety)
  • Has jeopardized or lost a significant relationship, job or educational or career opportunity because of participation in Internet gaming

Internet addiction disorder’s impact on the brain

According to a recent study done by Patricia Greenfield, a distinguished UCLA professor of psychology and director of the Children’s Digital Media Center, critical thinking capabilities are changing as a result of exposure to technology. The study suggests that the amount of time teens aged 12 to 17 are spending online is changing the way their brains work.

Greenfield studied two groups of sixth graders for five days. One group had access to electronic devices and the other group had no access to technology. The group that had no access to electronic devices was better at picking up on emotions and nonverbal cues displayed on photos of faces, compared to the group that used their devices during that time. The increased face-to-face interaction had made students more sensitive to nuances in expression. (Greenfield 2009)

Experts have observed abnormal brainstem functions in online game addicts. A particular study was conducted where 14 students with Internet addiction disorder were matched with 14 students without the disorder, and both groups underwent proton-magnetic resonance spectroscopy to measure cerebral function. The results of the tests showed that the ratio of N-acetylaspartate to creatine decreased, but the ratio of cho-line-containing compounds to creatine increased in the bilateral frontal lobe white matter in people with Internet addiction disorder. In other words, people with Internet addiction disorder had decreased frontal lobe function, despite ratios being mostly unaltered in the brainstem. (Liu, Esmail, Lingjiang, Zhifeng, Weihui, Gao, Wang, Tan, Zhang, Zhou 2013)

If you or a loved one would like more information on how you can obtain treatment for Internet addiction disorder, you can call the Mental Health Helpline at 855-653-8178.

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