Tech Addiction: Oh Those Sweet Dopamine Eliciting Toys!

Not Seing Enought.jpg Oh, please do not get me wrong at all! I LOVE, #heart, technology. Clearly! The whole  point to my blog post today is the possibility that too much of a good thing may be at detrimental. Society is changing with the advancement of technology; and, so are the expectations placed upon us to be hyper-connected, relentlessly, all of the time.

Do you ever wonder if you are you addicted to technology? 

dopamine-heart-1024x873.jpgWell, it is easy to to find ourselves feeling that we could NEVER unplug, experiencing pure panic if we were expected to give up our little Dopamine tech boost. Wait what?!?! Give up tech? or Dopamine? Yes, Dopamine that famous neurotransmitter (chemical messenger in your brain), that holds a prized position in the annals of popular science as the “reward” drug. Much of what we do online releases dopamine into the brain’s pleasure centers, resulting in obsessive pleasure-seeking behaviour. Just one more text, one more email, one more level in the game, one more internet search, and so on…

Yes, I’m going to get all PsychNerdy on y’all!Brain Nerd

There are consequences to this tech obsession…  Here is what some smart people are saying about the downside of technology overuse: “For a lot of people it’s the lack of offline time which causes hyper-arousal of the brain. People walk about in a state of distractibility.” Dr. Nerina Ramlakhan. Author and psychologist Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair also thinks multi-tasking, or multi-screening, is a dangerous game. “We see a decrease in memory, a decline in student grades, they’re not developing the part of their brain that needs to be developed for maintaining a singular focus,” she told the BBC.


Still not sold? well… There was some pretty cool research conducted by the International Center for Media at the University of Maryland in College Park, Md., which led “The World Unplugged” project. What they found was a clear majority of almost 1,000 university students in 10 countries, including China, Chile, the U.K. and Uganda, were unable to voluntarily stay away from computers, televisions, cellphones and MP3 players for 24 hours. Many students also reported mental and physical symptoms of distress and “employed the rhetoric of addiction, dependency and depression,” when reporting their experiences of trying to go unplugged for a full day.

YES! Just one Day!

Please take a moment to click here to open up a full pdf poster of what students around the world had to say about how they felt during their 24 hours without media. As a counsellor working with post-secondary students, I was shocked and saddened for the level of distress felt by these students. Fortunately, students left this study with some insight. Many students said that they learned that relying on devices such as cellphones “actually inhibited their ability to manage their lives as fully as they hoped,” the authors reported.

How social media makes us unsocial | Allison Graham | TEDxSMU 12:46min

I am going to be very transparent about my approach to mental health distress. I take a developmental approach rather than a “disease model” approach to mental health and wellness. I don’t believe that people are broken, but rather we develop very strong habits that may have helped us at one time in our lives but become a problem (maladaptive) for us later or in different settings. There is a great CBC podcast, “The Biology of Desire: Why Addiction is Not a Disease“, that explains this positive, hope instilled, approach to mental distress.

“We learn what we live”

live and learn.jpg There is a very famous poem written by Dr. Dorothy Law Nolte, Children Learn What They Live. I highly encourage you to check it out. It really illustrates the impact of learning on our habits and behaviours. Perhaps another line can be added to this insightful and true poem… If children learn that we communicate only through technology, they learn to avoid face-to-face interactions in favour of a text or to engage with people not in the room with them now. We are so quick to call something a disorder, to describe people as broken and incapable in the realm of learning to be different. Habits are learned and unlearned and often, good or bad, they have a developmental function and purpose in our lives.

Let’s Unlearn Some Unhelpful Tech Habits!!

Some simple strategies to reduce the electronic overload and regain a healthy balance of life, work, school and technology.Media_Overload_by_itsyouforme
  1. Make Tech Inaccessible: Experiment with short periods of inaccessibility. No, your life won’t implode, as with any addiction/well ingrained habit, there is a period of feeling like you are in a state of “withdrawal” and anxiety. Ride it out for the benefits.
    • Have “electronic sundowns” – pull back from technology in the hour before you go to bed.  Institute a “tech curfew:” no recreational use of tech after 9:00pm.
    • Unplug: Spend one hour per day, one day per week, and four days per month completely “unplugged” from all forms of technology.
    • Structure your “tech” day: set specific times for emailing, Facebook, chat rooms, eBay, research, etc. Set a “not-to-do list. For example, don’t check email/texts/FB before 8 a.m.
    • Be in the Room: Do not have conversations or meals with any tech devise in hand (eyes “up” and focused on your conversation partner).
  2. Remove the Unhelpful Distractors: If you find yourself unable to resist some tools such as RSS feeds, Twitter, etc. eliminate that service, at least from easy access on your smart phone.
  3. Buddy up. Don’t go it alone on the road to recovery, because you’re likely to revert to your old habits. Ask a friend or family member to join you.
  4. Replace Tech-Time with Healthy Options:  take low-tech “field trips” at least once per week (parks, museum, movies, reading paper books, cafes, etc.). Exercise with friends: biking, hiking, swimming, treadmill, intramural sports, bowling, etc.)
  5. Empowerment Through Rephrasing: take a moment to listen to yourself, how do you describe your experience? Does it sound anything like the following?
    • “My smartphone runs my life”. rephrase: “I am letting my smartphone run my life”
    • “It is harder for me, than others, to disconnect”. rephrase: “I am not ready to deal with feeling disconnected from FB, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, etc.”


If you take responsibility, you can develop a strong strategy because it is coming from you (intrinsic); rather than relying on an outside source of motivation (extrinsic).

Technology should improve your life,

not become your life. 

Unplug.jpg Believe me, I can see how ironic it is that I am writing today about the perils of technology using WordPress, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube…I know, I know 😉 But… What I really do know is that there is so much to be said for the value of MODERATION. Technology is awesome, until it is not awesome; so, lets moderate this goodness. It is not simply going without; it is about filling your time in a different way. It is about using technology as intended; as a tool to improve your life not a replacement or a way to avoid difficult/unpleasant things (i.e. real time social interaction). What electronic toy can you just not live without? Try separating yourself, in small increments …just to see if you can do it 🙂 The whole process of psychotherapy is helping people develop strategies for emotional distress. Learning to experience emotional discomfort and know that it will pass. Build your skills, sit with emotion, sit with temptation and replace with healthier habits.

“Hi Tech, we’re breaking up, just for a moment, to see if I can live without you…for a moment”

FYI, I went tech-free this past Friday; hence, no eSuccess-Coaching Blog 🙂


Dr. Heather Drummond,  C.Psych.

Psychologist * Passionate Advocate for Flourishing * Human Muddling Through



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