Is Computer Withdrawal a Real Phenomenon? 5 Possible Signs
Larry Alton
JAN 27, 2016 12:35 PM
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Is Computer Withdrawal a Real Phenomenon? 5 Possible Signs

by Larry Alton

You’ve probably used the terms “withdrawal” or “addicted” to exaggerate a perfectly normal, healthy response to a habit or taste in your own life or the life of someone you know.

For example, you might have ordered too much pizza from the shop down the street lately and claimed to be “addicted”; or you might have claimed to go through “withdrawal” after your favorite TV show aired its final episode.

These terms are increasingly being used to refer to people’s response to technology, such as being “addicted” to your smartphone, or going through “withdrawal” when your Internet service goes down. But recent research suggests that computer and technology-based addiction and withdrawal may be real, physical phenomena.

Is it possible that your obsession with some item of technology, whether social media, video games, Internet research, or the like, is actually an expression of an addiction?

What Constitutes Addiction and Withdrawal?

First, take a closer look at the definitions for the terms so you know whether they’re being abused or employed casually. Addiction refers to a condition where the compulsive pursuit of a habit (including the ingestion of a substance or engagement in an activity) starts to interfere with daily life.

An addicted person is psychologically and possibly even physiologically compelled to complete an action, and has little to no control over himself in the process.

Withdrawal is a physical response in the brain to the sudden removal of the substance or activity. Withdrawal can be physical, emotional, or a combination of the two, depending on the nature of the addiction. 

Non-Traditional Forms of Addiction

We tend to think of “real” addiction as manifesting only as a response to illegal or controlled substances. For example, most of us regard heroin addiction as a serious condition, and agree that dependency on alcohol or nicotine is a physical phenomenon.

However, addiction is not limited to psychoactive substances, as demonstrated by several non-traditional forms of addiction.

  • It’s possible to become addicted to sugar (to an extent), and exhibit symptoms of withdrawal when you choose to reduce your carbohydrate intake after prolonged, chronic consumption of excess sugar.
  • Compulsive gambling is a result of physiological and psychological changes similar to those that occur in chemical addictions, and withdrawal can be comparably difficult to achieve.
  • Sexual addiction is also a real phenomenon, and can manifest itself in a number of unhealthy ways.

Digital Addiction

Given those examples, it’s not so hard to imagine that digital addiction can manifest itself in a number of ways, depending on your habits and “drug” of choice:

  • Video-game addiction can cause people to play games for hours, and sometimes days on end, at the expense of their other responsibilities and interests.
  • Social media addiction can appear as an obsession with posting a certain amount of times per day, or an extreme anxiety when one is not logged in and active on platforms of choice.
  • Information addiction can drive people to consume endless feeds of content online.
  • Pornography addiction can take the place of normal, healthy relationships.

Signs You’re Addicted to Digital Technology

There are several possible signs you might be addicted to technology, including:

1.     Egregious amounts of time wasted. Everyone wastes time online; that doesn’t mean they’re addicted. However, if you waste egregious amounts of time on a specific technological interaction (such as staying up for 48 hours straight playing a video game), it’s a sign that you likely have a problem. When you’re addicted, days can go by without your notice, and you start to lose any concrete sense of time.  

2.     Sacrificing personal commitments and relationships for technology. Many of us have texted someone during a date with our boyfriend or girlfriend, but have you ever broken up with someone or let yourself be fired because of your technological habits? When your digital habits start to ruin your personal relationships or compromise your ability to work and lead a normal life, it’s a sign that an addiction may have taken over.

3.     Being haunted by obsessive thoughts when not playing/accessing. When you set your game controller down and start doing something else, does your mind keep returning to the game? When you close your Internet browser, are you able to focus on another task, or do your thoughts perpetually come back to logging online again soon? Obsessive thoughts are a major clue that your brain is craving an activity to an unnatural degree.

4.     Recurring anxiety about your habits. Do you get nervous when you aren’t engaging in your habit? If so, it could be a sign that you’ve become addicted. For example, it’s fine to be frustrated when your Internet goes out … but do you become actively worried, or panicked about what will happen if it doesn’t come back on? Anxiety can also manifest as worry about how much time you’re spending on the habit, or how you’re spending that time.

5.     A loss of motivation or interest in the physical world. What other hobbies and interests do you have, and what did you do with your spare time before your habit started to take over your life? If you find that your interest in nearly everything else in your life -- friends, family, job, hobbies, etc. -- is plummeting, that’s a signal you have a problem.

It’s highly unlikely that you or anyone you know is suffering from a literal addiction to technology. Checking your Facebook feed regularly and playing video games a few hours a day does not qualify.

Digital addiction is a real and destructive psychological condition, though, and if your life is truly the worse for it, you need to seek help. Gradual habit changes and cognitive-behavioral therapy can help reduce the impact of withdrawal, and move you back to a healthier life.

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