Addiction is typically defined as a compulsive need for and use of a habit-forming substance (usually harmful) and signified by well-defined physiological symptoms upon withdrawal. There are also behavioral addictions such as gambling, sex, gaming and others.
There is an ongoing debate about whether internet or technology addiction should be a standalone diagnosis. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders V mentions internet gaming, but does not yet include it as a standalone diagnosis. The manual states: “additional research may eventually lead to evidence that Internet gaming disorder (also commonly referred to as Internet use disorder, Internet addiction, or gaming addiction) has merit as an independent disorder.”¹
The internet can be a vehicle for addictive behaviors. For instance, gambling on the internet can become an addictive behavior. There are some behaviors like gambling where the internet is simply the vehicle by which an individual practices the addiction.
Despite the debate over the way such technology addictions should be classified, technology addiction centers are popping up all over the United States, and many countries in Asia already have robust treatment programs in place.² What are the roles counselors might play in the ongoing debate and the subsequent treatment of technology addiction?
It takes several years for a diagnosis to get it’s own designation in the DSM. Counselors who deal directly with clients play a huge role in the research of new disorders.
Due to their role in the mental health community, counselors help shape diagnostic research and the determination of new disorders.
Regardless of whether technology addiction is officially a part of the DSM people are concerned about individuals overdependence on technology and how it interferes with their everyday lives. Those seeking treatment do so because it becomes difficult to manage compulsive behaviors. For example, they can’t seem to stop playing online video games, Recovery centers also take in individuals with compulsive need to constantly check Facebook and Instagram, watch YouTube on loop, or read Reddit non-stop.
Types of treatments vary depending on the program’s model. Adolescent programs like Outback Therapeutic Expeditions in Utah or reSTART Center for Digital Technology Sustainability in Washington, provide a 12 week program modeled after traditional 12 step recovery programs. Some treatments include medication and talk therapy.³
Counselors play a key role in these treatment centers, assisting patients in understanding their compulsions and the underlying issues that may be causing them.
There are many issues surrounding technology and internet addiction. Until it is an official diagnosis, insurance plans do not cover treatment. There is some debate over the definition of internet addiction, and what behaviors might be included in that definition. 4
There are others who feel that technology addiction is merely a symptom of other off line difficulties, and use of the internet is a means of compensating or dealing with these other difficulties.
Counselors will have a significant role in helping mental health professionals define these definitions, refine treatments, and clarify underlying issues. Graduates who receive their Master of Arts in Counseling from Wake Forest University will have the opportunity to affect positive social change in the area of technology addiction.
¹Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) pg. 796