Addicted to technology? Steps one NJ expert says you need to take
The isolation necessitated by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic caused an "explosion" in the virtual world, according to one Rutgers professor, who said that coincides with a rise in reports of people in New Jersey and elsewhere becoming addicted to their devices.
But Dr. Petros Levounis, chair of the department of psychiatry for Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, still estimates that the rate of developing an actual, diagnosed technology addiction is only around 1% of all users.
Those people may feel a lingering pull toward one corner of the internet or another, from gaming to shopping to social media to cybersex.
Levounis said early in the COVID pandemic, the World Health Organization promoted increased use of devices in order to stay connected to the outside world.
That's still a good idea in many respects, he said, but he also suggested an over-reliance on tech could be masking something more serious, like depression, anxiety, or ADHD.
"Yes, technological addictions are very real and people suffer from them, but if you think you may have a technological addiction, it's not the only explanation of the difficulties that you may be having," Levounis said.
How can someone remedy a technology addiction? Levounis has a few guidelines.
First, ask yourself, "Do I have an addiction?"
Now that many COVID gathering restrictions are a thing of the past, are you still not going out? If you were previously on the dating scene, have you stopped? Are you falling behind at work?
Affirmative answers to any of these questions may be indicative, but Levounis also said some people may not have the self-awareness to recognize the severity of an attraction to their devices.
That could manifest in lying to others about one's plans — saying you went out with friends or stayed home to watch TV, when in fact you were gaming or doomscrolling for hours on end.
With that in mind, Levounis' second recommendation is to put limits on device usage.
He said this can be both "therapeutic and diagnostic."
Limits can be either time- or location-based, such as not using a phone in the bedroom or at the dinner table.
If an addiction tends toward shopping or especially gambling, a self-imposed spending cap might also be appropriate.
"If you find yourself having great difficulty setting your own limits to the technology, that may very well signify that you have more of a problem than you originally thought you had," Levounis said.
Third, contact a professional after having self-diagnosed an addiction or noticing key warning signs.
"If you start realizing that your sleep gets affected, your appetite gets affected, your function at work and at home is starting to get affected, then it's time to seek out some help," Levounis said.
Although these tips are for adults who may be addicted, Levounis acknowledges that children in the modern age cannot avoid technology either.
Parents who try to curb their kids' usage may often find that a "messy" proposition, he said, but setting a restrained example goes a long way.
"It's not particularly effective to tell children you cannot bring your cell phone at the dinner table, meanwhile having the parents texting and emailing during dinner," Levounis said.
Patrick Lavery is New Jersey 101.5's afternoon news anchor. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.