Digital Addiction On The Rise, Mental Health Experts Say

By Brent McCluskey 11/06/15

It's becoming a bigger problem whether we like it or not.

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Head over to your local coffee shop and you’ll most likely find the tables occupied with people on their digital devices either working, checking social media, or mindlessly surfing the web. You’re sure to find the same thing on the subway during your morning and evening commutes, and it's a common sight to see people glued to their devices while strolling down the street in the afternoon.

It’s no secret that many of us spend the majority of the day on the web, but when does it cross the line into becoming a full-fledged addiction? According to some experts, whether or not we want to accept it, Internet addiction is becoming a real problem and psychologists say they’re seeing more patients suffering from digital addiction, which in turn can dramatically affect a person’s life.

“The negative consequences at their extreme are failing to fulfill social and work obligations,” Karin Kassab explained, a psychologist at Clarity Counseling Center in Wilmington. “These are the Facebook moms who forget to put their kids to bed or forget to pick their kids up from school. The online gamers who are spending so much time gaming that they lose their job and move back home. When we are talking Internet addiction, it is important to note, this is excessive Internet use at its extreme. The tokens are excessive Internet use and big problems at work, school or socially.”

Kassab is not the first expert to note the seriousness of digital addiction. However, not all experts believe digital addiction is as big of a problem as we’re making it out to be.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, professor of gambling studies at the Nottingham Trent University and director of the International Gaming Research Unit, believes there’s nothing inherently wrong with excessively being on the web or a smartphone as long as it doesn’t interfere with our lives. For those who are truly addicted, it is usually because something more severe is going on.

“We know that some people do spend excessive amounts of time on their smartphones, but if it’s not interfering with their job, or their education, or their relationships, or other hobbies, then we shouldn’t be pathologizing them,” Dr. Griffiths said. “Often, the excessive use is symptomatic of other underlying problems in that person’s life. Therapeutically, if you find out what that problem is, then the excessive use can disappear.”

Kassab echoes this sentiment, saying that many experts debate over whether or not digital addiction can stand on its own as a diagnosis, or if it is masking another condition such as anxiety or depression.

“There’s great debate over whether Internet addiction is actually its own stand alone disorder or if it is a consequence of a co-occurring disorder,” Kassab explained. “So, am I depressed therefore that manifests into me staying in, being isolated on the Internet?”

Though the debate continues, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders currently does not classify Internet addiction or smartphone addiction as a diagnosis for addiction or treatment.

Despite the controversy, Kassab stands by her decision to treat digital addiction as a true addiction, and with the rise of “digital addiction” she’s seeing in her clients, it doesn’t seem like there’s any sign of this slowing down soon.

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Brent McCluskey is a Social Media Editor at International Business Times as well as a Jedi with Sith tendencies.  He is also a reader of books, slayer of dragons, and level 80 mage.

“Yeah, I have a broad skill set. If I had to pick between being a Divergent or a wizard, I'd pick a wizard.”  His wizardness can be found on Twitter and Linkedin.