Digital Addiction

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Digital Addiction

by James G. Barr

Docid: 00018032

Publication Date: 2207

Publication Type: TUTORIAL


When most people consider the issue of addiction, they think of its
long-established forms like substance abuse (alcohol, tobacco,
prescription drugs, opioids, etc.) or behavioral cravings (gambling,
shopping, exercise, etc.). In recent years, however, with the rapid
proliferation of personal computers, video games, and smartphones, a new
form of addiction has emerged: digital addiction (DA). According to the
United Brain Association, digital addiction is a harmful dependence on
digital media and high-tech devices. While not a formally diagnosable
disorder, some psychologists believe addiction to digital devices and
media is similar to substance addictions.

Report Contents:

Executive Summary

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When most people consider the issue of addiction, they think of its
long-established forms, like:

  • Substance abuse (alcohol, tobacco, prescription drugs, opioids, etc.)
  • Behavioral cravings (gambling, shopping, exercise, etc.).

Faulkner Reports
Digital Transformation Tutorial
Virtual Reality Technology

In recent years, however, with the rapid proliferation of personal
computers, video games, and smartphones, a new form of addiction has
emerged: Digital addiction (DA).

According to the United Brain Association, “Digital addiction is a
harmful dependence on digital media and high-tech devices.” While “not a
formally diagnosable disorder, … some psychologists believe addiction to
digital devices and media is similar to substance addictions.”1

Although the medical community has yet to reach a consensus on the
precise nature of digital addiction, in particular its diagnostic
criteria, one specific affliction, gaming disorder, has already been
singled out.

  • “Internet Gaming Disorder is identified within the Diagnostic and
    Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
    , 5th Edition (DSM-5)” and
  • “The World Health Organization [WHO] recognized Gaming Disorder in its
    International Classification of Diseases.”2

While digital addiction won’t be found in any compilation of the "Top 10"
enterprise threats according to enterprise risk managers and their C-suite
bosses, DA should, nonetheless, receive some measure of enterprise attention.

  • First, because enterprises have historically helped employees identify
    and overcome personal addictions.
  • Second, because digital addiction, like other afflictions, can
    adversely affect employee performance and productivity.
  • Third, because enterprises can actually exacerbate employees’ digital
    addictions through their policies and practices.

Types of Digital Addiction

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Digital addiction is a common malady, one to which some persons are
probably predisposed. In the era before personal computers and
smartphones, when cable television ruled the entertainment and information
landscape, a frequent compliant among family members was the propensity of
certain members to engage in “channel surfing” – using the TV remote
control to constantly shuffle from one
station to the next, seldom stopping long enough to actually sample a
particular program.

While channel surfing, a form of "analog addiction," is still a phenomenon especially among older
adults, many people have formed a TV-like
attachment to their personal computers and smartphones, spending hours per
day “web surfing” for interesting videos or, in the case or Google or
Bing, satisfying a seemingly immediate need to discover certain arcane
facts, like what percentage of the population is left-handed? or what are
Canada’s principal exports? This is not to diminish the positive impact of
personal computers and smartphones, which provide their owners with
near-instant access to information previously stored within the recesses
of physical libraries. It is, however, offered as an admonition that users
of digital devices and digital services should be cognizant of the dangers
of digital addiction in all its modern-day variety.

Figure 1. Are You a Digital Addict?

Figure 1. Are You a Digital Addict?

Source: PxHere

As we will see, digital addiction presents in many forms. Dr. Petros
Levounis, a professor and chair of the Department of Psychiatry at Rutgers
New Jersey Medical School, states that “Addiction specialists generally
agree on seven major online behaviors of concern.”3 These are:

Internet Gaming Disorder – “This
disorder rose to prominence during the heyday of massive multiplayer
online games like World of Warcraft, with stories of gamers losing
themselves in their online world at the expense of real-world
connections.”4 Today, of course, the opportunity to engage in
addictive games has expanded from custom game consoles to smartphones.

Internet Gambling Disorder – While
gambling addiction has always been a problem, legal gambling was usually
restricted to casinos and race tracks and often involved expensive travel
to destinations like Las Vegas and Atlantic City. Today, however,
digital-style gambling opportunities abound, including:

    • College and professional sports gambling
    • Speculative stock trading
    • Online casino games
    • Wagering on the up and down movement of cryptic cryptocurrencies

Online Shopping Disorder – The ability
to buy goods and services over the Internet is the essence of e-commerce.
But what was viewed early on as a convenience has turned, at least for
some, into a compulsion, with organizations like Amazon, originally a book
seller, offering all manner of merchandise to anyone possessing a credit
card and a PC (or phone). The lure of no or reduced shipping fees and the
never-ending flow of promotional e-mails based on past-purchase analysis
is causing many financially-challenged consumers to spend beyond their

Cybersex – Just as online news sites
have diminished interest in – and, in some cases, doomed – mainstream
newspapers and news magazines, modern adult sites
have helped propel “dirty magazine” fare into people’s homes, exposing
children and vulnerable adults. But, as Dr. Levounis observes, the
cybersex disorder “also includes more active and social behaviors like
adult webcams, sex chats, and even unhealthy online dating. The current
frontier in this field is teledildonics, a form of virtual sex in which
webcam viewers can remotely control sexual stimulation devices used by the
host. As with shopping or gambling, sex addiction is not new, but online
technologies have let people explore sexuality with far more
accessibility, affordability, and anonymity than ever before.”5

Internet Surfing and Infobesity – For
the bored, undisciplined, or easily distracted, Internet surfing can
reduce personal productivity, turning a potential information goldmine
that is the Internet into a professional landmine. Conversely, as Dr.
Levounis suggests, “People who stay focused on a task while online can
find themselves experiencing information overload, or “infobesity”.
[Users] find so much information on their topic of interest that they
don’t know how to sort through it all and proceed, leading to a state of
productive paralysis.”6

Texting/E-Mailing Addiction
Perhaps the most common – and certainly the most readily recognized – type
of digital addiction is compulsive texting or e-mailing (or checking for
texts or e-mails). Among young people in particular, texting often
replaces vocal exchanges with the effect that voicemail is only employed
when a message is too lengthy or inconvenient to type. Texting and/or
e-mailing addicts stereotypically present as individuals who constantly
stare at their phones while flashing both their thumbs across the keyboard
in a highly-choreographed typing motion. This behavior can be particularly
problematic in a business environment as it may be considered
disrespectful, especially in a meeting or other group setting.

Social Media Addiction – According to
Dr. Levounis, social media addiction “may have the fuzziest delineation
between healthy and unhealthy use. Many people believe if social media
apps like Facebook or Twitter disappeared altogether, the world would be
much improved.” That contention aside, “the relevant issue is whether
[people] are experiencing significant symptoms and consequences due to
their social media use. As social media is still a rapidly evolving space,
identifying addictive use is difficult, but one strong warning sign could
be extended passive use of social media, where one is more voyeur than
active participant.”7 Another red flag is the possible
prolonged exposure to misinformation (or even disinformation) since social
media sites are usually unvetted or under-vetted.

Just as one individual can suffer from multiple physical addictions, drugs
and alcohol for example, one individual can experience multiple types of
digital addiction, like gambling and social media. The key is to recognize
the symptoms, acknowledge the problem, and pursue a treatment course.

Diagnosing DA

Unlike many physical maladies that require a battery of tests and a
physical exam by a certified physician to form a diagnosis, digital
addictions are generally susceptible to self-discovery.

Begin by asking yourself the following questions:

  1. Are you always – or nearly always – in possession of your preferred
    digital device?
  2. Are you drawn to your digital device while sharing a meal with your
    family, playing with your children, conversing with friends, or
    attending a sporting or entertainment event?
  3. Are you routinely conducting work-related digital business at night or
    on the weekend?
  4. Are you using your digital device to engage in self-destructive
    activities, like surveying porn sites, placing unaffordable wagers,
    purchasing unneeded merchandise, or generally behaving in a
    self-destructive manner?
  5. Are you using your digital device to assume another “metaverse”-like
    identity? Is it mere fun, or are you attempting to escape real-world
    responsibilities, or real-word anxiety or depression?8
  6. Are you capable of establishing – and observing – digital-free
    windows, like no non-emergency smartphone use after 9:00 PM or on
  7. Are you ignoring complaints from family, friends, or co-workers about
    the amount of time you spend online?

Treating Digital Addiction

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Treating digital addiction is controversial since some observers view the
condition as a “fad illness” which usually resolves itself.9

For those clinicians and others who view digital addiction more
seriously, researchers’ reviews of the relevant literature suggests three
kinds10 of countermeasures. These are:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – Also
known as “talk therapy,” digital addicts work with a mental health
professional, typically a psychotherapist or clinical social worker, to
develop the personal skills to view and manage their digital duties in a
healthy and efficient manner.11

Software-Mediated Therapy – This
approach, ironically, leverages digital technology to:

    • Raise awareness of digital addiction, providing personalized
      feedback based on a subject’s digital habits; and
    • Intervene directly by setting – and, in certain cases,
      enforcing – digital use restrictions.12
Pharmacological Therapy – This
approach involves the use of anti-depressants to treat patients suffering
from Internet Gaming Disorder. One possible reason for the observed
successes of this strategy is that “anti-depressants [inhibit] dopamine
signalling, which is responsible for increased sensitivity to

Analog, Anyone?

While researching his book, Digital Minimalism, author Cal Newport
asked a group of volunteers to avoid “optional digital technologies”
including social media, online news, video games, and streaming. As he
writes in The New York Times, “I encouraged them to aggressively
reintroduce high-value leisure activities that had nothing to do with
glowing screens – even if these activities required more energy and
commitment than clicking ‘next episode’ or scrolling a Twitter feed. Many
embraced my advice.”

Based on the positive feedback Newport received, he concluded that “the
positive effect of returning to … analog activities is so pronounced
that I’ve come to think of this strategy like a magic pill of sorts for
curing the low-grade anxiety and existential aimlessness that define our
culture of constant connection. This effect seemed particularly powerful
for young people who have never known life without an accompanying screen.
Like sleep and exercise, this analog cure seems to have few downsides, and
its benefits compound.”14

The Enterprise
Role In Mitigating Digital Addiction

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Every enterprise has a duty to provide for the safety and well-being of
its employees. This obligation extends to:

  • Warning workers about the dangers of addiction, including digital
  • Creating a work environment which is not conducive to addiction.
  • Furnishing options for addiction treatment and recovery.

Addiction Awareness Training

Just as enterprise management conducts regular training in Security
Awareness, they should also conduct regular – and comprehensive – training
in Addiction Awareness, with special emphasis on:

  • Drug and alcohol addiction
  • Gambling addiction; and, of course,
  • Digital addiction

Owing to the sensitive subject matter, sessions should be led by
credentialed mental health professionals.

Business Process Reengineering

Business process reengineering (BPR) is the systematic study of business
processes with the goal of streamlining or otherwise optimizing business
operations. The aim of BPR is to:

  • Reduce process resource requirements
  • Lower process execution time
  • Cut process costs
  • Improve overall process efficiency and effectiveness

BPR can also be employed to reduce digital dependence, thus help lower
the incidence of digital addiction.

One welcome change could be reducing the number and frequency of digital
alerts and notifications, which tend to clog in-boxes, and obscure
important, perhaps even time-sensitive, communications.

Another change – one which employees advocate – is declaring nights and
weekends e-mail- and text-free zones.

Third-Party Treatment Options

Finally, whether for digital addiction or other mental or physical
disorders, the enterprise should provide confidential, third-party
treatment options for all employees.

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American Psychiatric Association:
United Brain Association:
US National Institute of Standards and Technology:


1 “What Is Digital Addiction.” United Brain Association. 2022.

2 Deniz Cemiloglu, Mohamed Basel Almourad, John McAlaney,
and Raian Ali. “Combating Digital Addiction: Current Approaches and Future
Directions.” The Authors. Elsevier Ltd. December 4, 2021.

3-7 Petros Levounis, M.D., M.A. “Special Report: Be Prepared
to Address Technological Addictions in Psychiatric Practice.” American
Psychiatric Association. February 1, 2022.

8 Natalie Hoeg. “What Is An Internet Addiction?” Addiction
Center. December 17, 2021.

9 Christina Gregory, PhD. “Internet Addiction Disorder.”
Remedy Health Media, LLC. May 12, 2022.

10-13 Deniz Cemiloglu, Mohamed Basel Almourad, John McAlaney,
and Raian Ali. “Combating Digital Addiction: Current Approaches and Future
Directions.” The Authors. Elsevier Ltd. December 4, 2021.

14 Cal Newport. “Digital Addiction Getting You Down? Try an
Analog Cure.” The New York Times. April 8, 2019.

About the Author

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James G. Barr is a leading business continuity analyst
and business writer with more than 40 years’ IT experience. A member of
“Who’s Who in Finance and Industry,” Mr. Barr has designed, developed, and
deployed business continuity plans for a number of Fortune 500 firms. He
is the author of several books, including How to Succeed in Business
BY Really Trying
, a member of Faulkner’s Advisory Panel, and a
senior editor for Faulkner’s Security Management Practices.
Mr. Barr can be reached via e-mail at

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