What Is Screen Addiction?

Screen addiction is when a person uses technology excessively and becomes dependent on it. Screen addiction mainly involves smartphones, tablets, computers, and televisions. It is identified by a compulsive need to use these electronic devices, regardless of the negative impacts on daily activities and obligations such as work, school, or social relationships.

Screen addiction encompasses many technological addictions, including addiction to social media, video games, the internet, and pornography. It can lead to a wide array of physical and psychological problems, including eye strain, muscle strain, sleep disturbances, anxiety, depression, and social isolation.

Screen addiction is prevalent today due to the increased level of interactivity and stimulation people get from using technology. Technological devices offer a continuous stream of notifications, updates, and entertainment options that can be difficult for people to ignore. Furthermore, these stimuli can activate the dopamine reward system in the brain, resulting in a cycle of compulsive use and addiction.

Although the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) does not specifically refer to a condition called “screen addiction”, the following paragraphs describe different addictions that may fall under this category.

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Cell Phone Addiction

Cell phone addiction, also called problematic smartphone use, has become a growing issue, especially among younger generations. Cell phone addiction is a psychological and behavioral dependence on the chronic and compulsive use of mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets.

It is identified as an excessive need to check and use one’s phone or other smart device, even when it interferes with daily responsibilities or creates adverse consequences.

An addiction to smart devices can reveal itself in many ways, including:

  • Constantly checking for notifications
  • Feeling anxious or irritable when not able to use one’s phone
  • Choosing to neglect family and friends in social situations

More alarming symptoms include using the phone in unsuitable or dangerous situations such as during work meetings or while driving an automobile. Just as other addictions can negatively affect one’s mental health, relationships, and productivity, so can the addiction to cell phones and other smart devices.

Internet Addiction

Internet addiction, also referred to as problematic internet use, is a screen addiction that pertains to a pattern of excessive and compulsive internet use that interferes with daily responsibilities and brings about negative consequences.

These side-effects may include anxiety, depression, social isolation, and poor or decreased academic or professional performance.

Internet addiction can reveal itself in many ways, such as:

  • Excessive use of social media
  • Compulsive online shopping
  • Gambling addiction

Gaming Addiction

The DSM-5 categorizes video game addiction as an “internet gaming disorder”, which is characterized by compulsive and problematic gaming behavior.

People addicted to gaming may choose to play video games over tending to other obligations or responsibilities, such as work, school, or social interactions.

Individuals addicted to gaming may become angry or irritable when their gaming behavior is criticized or their ability to game becomes compromised.

They will continue to engage in chronic gaming regardless of its negative impact on their lives or the lives of others around them.

How Much Screen Time Is Too Much?

The American Optometric Association (AOA) found that people who use screens continuously for two or more hours a day are at the greatest risk of developing computer vision syndrome, the most prevalent side-effect of screen addiction.

This is troubling news, as they also reported that people spend up to seven hours a day looking at a screen for work-related purposes. When added to the four to six hours of personal screen time the average person engages in (mostly on their phone), almost half the day is spent with their eyes glued to a screen.

While some of this time is productive, excessive screen use for recreation (video and computer games, social media, dating apps, entertainment, etc.) can negatively affect a person’s mental and physical well-being.

Physical Effects

The most prevalent physical effect of screen use is the great demand it puts on the eyes. Digital eye strain and computer vision syndrome are reported in 50% to 90% of people who work at computers daily.

Symptoms of digital eye strain and computer vision syndrome include:

  • Dry eyes
  • Blurred vision
  • Double vision
  • Headaches
  • Neck and shoulder pain

While many of these physical symptoms will resolve after screen use has stopped, long-term eye strain can lead to permanent vision problems.

Physiological And Mental Effects

Screen addiction can contribute to physiological and mental effects like insomnia, stress, and depression.

Depression

Depression is the most common mental health condition associated with screen addiction. A study from Preventative Medicine Reports found a correlation between higher screen time usage and moderate to severe depression levels, with higher rates found among females. The study found that four or more hours of daily screen time was the tipping point for heightened risk of depression.

Insomnia And Poor Sleep

Using screens before bed can lead to many issues that affect a person’s sleep quality. Blue light from devices can delay melatonin production, leading to a lack of sleepiness. Likewise, engaging in stimulating games or watching exciting shows can also make a person feel more alert. Screen addiction heightens the risk for these factors, as a person spends excessive time on these devices and puts off sleep.

Stress

Some people claim to use screen time to zone out and take a break from the day’s stressors, but the reality may be that this time is a source of stress. Fear of missing out (FOMO), lowered self-esteem, and loneliness are some of the stressors associated with screen addiction. The Journal of Medical Internet Research found that people who used screen time for entertainment and social networking experienced 19% more emotional stress than those who used screen time for professional purposes.

How To Cut Back Screen Time

If you feel like you are spending too much time looking at a screen, there are methods for cutting back.

20-20-20 Rule

For temporary eye strain relief, the AOA suggests using the 20-20-20 method, which directs a person to take a 20-second break every 20 minutes to focus on an object at least 20 feet away. This gives the eye a break from the blue light and allows it to relax by focusing on something further away.

Time Limits

Many studies recommend limiting personal screen time to 30 minutes per day for optimal effects. Since this may be a drastic change for some, limiting screen use to one hour a day is also beneficial.

Likewise, taking a three-to-four-hour break from screens can create an overall healthier relationship, as the perception changes from looking at screen time as a necessity to an activity of choice.

Digital Detox

A digital detox may be the best option for people who feel like their screen addiction has gotten out of control. This does not necessarily mean giving up all screen use but encourages users to cut back on non-work-related screen time.

Taking scheduled breaks or putting the phone away before bedtime can be the first step in resetting and creating new, healthier relationships with screens.

Treatment Options For Screen Addiction

Screen addiction treatment often involves a mixture of behavioral therapy, support groups, and lifestyle changes.

Lifestyle Changes

Lifestyle changes often include limiting screen time and searching for alternative ways to fill free time, specifically ones that do not involve technology. Finding new hobbies and interests can help reduce dependence on technology. Engaging in social interactions in person is also a great alternative to using smartphones for social interactions. In some cases, prescribed medication may also help address underlying mental health conditions, such as anxiety or depression, that may contribute to screen addiction.

More formal treatment options used to address screen addiction may include:

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy encourages people to change their thoughts and behaviors related to screen use and addiction. CBT can help individuals develop new and healthy coping skills and habits, identify and address triggers related to screen use, and learn how to utilize their time and energy more appropriately.

Mindfulness-Based Therapy

This type of therapy refers to mindfulness strategies that can help an individual learn to manage stress and anxiety, which are often common triggers for screen use. Practicing mindfulness can teach a person to be more present and aware of their thoughts and feelings. This increased awareness can help individuals reduce their desire for screen time.

Family Therapy

Screen addiction can significantly impact relationships with loved ones. Family therapy can help address these issues. Family therapy can help family members develop healthier communication patterns, boundary setting around screen use, and other ways to support each other in reducing screen time and spending more time with each other.

Group Therapy

Group therapy can offer a supportive and non-judgmental atmosphere for individuals struggling with screen addiction. Individuals can share their coping strategies for managing screen use and gain support from others experiencing the same challenges.

Individual Counseling

Individual counseling can help people get to the root of their problems. There may be a bigger reason why someone has immersed themselves in technology. Individual counseling can help a person address many deep-rooted issues from trauma and relationship problems to grief and loss.

Find Treatment For Screen Addiction

It’s important to remember that treatment for screen addiction is not one-size-fits-all.

It’s vital to seek treatment from a licensed mental health professional who has experience working with addiction-related issues to find the best treatment for you.

If you are looking for support in treating your screen addiction, online therapy is available now.

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