Colorado Campus Recovery Center Adds Technology Addiction Services

By McCarton Ackerman 08/11/16

Technology addiction is a relatively new issue and experts are still split on whether it requires the same methods of treatment as other behavioral addictions.

Colorado Campus Recovery Center Adds Technology Addiction Services

The Collegiate Recovery Center at the University of Colorado-Boulder has long tackled substance abuse, but now it's going the extra mile by addressing technology addiction.

The Daily Camera reported that the campus recovery center began holding support meetings last spring for students who believe they’re using technology as a crutch. For some of the five to twelve students who attend each meeting on average, computer screens are as much of an issue for them as illicit drugs.

"I used drugs, alcohol, video games, Reddit and Netflix bingeing as a coping mechanism for life," 25-year-old Will Jeffery, a rising sophomore at CU, told the Daily Camera. "For whatever reason, I never developed the tools to tolerate uncomfortable emotions. And so I found these things as my tools."

Technology addiction is classified as a process or behavior addiction similar to compulsive gambling or sex. But Sam Randall, program manager for CU’s Collegiate Recovery Center, explained that it’s why people use technology that constitutes an addiction, as opposed to the number of hours spent on it.

"The tool itself, the screen, isn't necessarily the problem,” he said. "It's just that the compulsion to find my connection only through that screen takes me out of the human experience. People are sitting around in what would normally be a social interaction situation. Instead they're sitting on their phones scrolling through their Facebook feed."

Recovery from technology addiction often involves an initial period during which the patient completely abstains from using devices. With the help of therapy, designed to understand why this overuse is taking place and to increase comfort with face-to-face interactions, technology is gradually re-introduced into the person’s life.

Although there are some inpatient centers specifically designed for Internet addiction, some medical experts believe they are generally not necessary.

We reached out to licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Lisa Strohman, founder and CEO of the Technology Wellness Center, for her take. “I think those centers are facilitating and working with people who have co-occurring disorders,” she said. “Some people are probably predisposed to having an extreme relationship with technology or being ‘computer addicts,’ whether it’s people with paranoid tendencies or Asperger’s syndrome, or other issues. The inpatient facilities are dealing with something that’s more medically-based and might need to be treated with medication or 24-hour care.”

Jeffery is an example of that co-occurring disorder, with his admitted “trifecta” of video game, alcohol and cocaine use. However, he’s benefitted greatly from CU’s technology addiction services and says he has learned to self-police his video game use.

"I definitely still struggle with [addiction]," he said. "My biggest challenge is my personal willpower and boundaries, because there's no one looking over my shoulder. So that's where my relationship with [the center] falls into place. It's been invaluable."

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.