‘Very harmful’: Carilion expert estimates up to 10% of adults are addicted to technology

Constantly scrolling and playing video games can increase risk for anxiety and depression

ROANOKE, Va. – Social media, television, video games — No matter the medium, digital technology is intertwined with our lives to the point where some can’t live without the screen.

“I am addicted to technology. I think everybody’s addicted to some kind of technology,” said Roanoke native Mary Walker.

“I crave the interactions that I have on my phone with people that I’ve never met in person, but I’ve met them virtually,” said Salem resident Jeff Cole.

Dr. Robert Trestman, the chair of psychiatry at Carilion Clinic and a professor of psychiatry at Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, said that biologically, we crave instant gratification. It stimulates our brain’s basic reward system and dopamine production, so we go back for more.

“Technology has inadvertently and thoughtfully made use of the underlying biology to create very addictive tools,” said Trestman.

He estimates that 5 to 10% of the adult population has some impairment because of overuse or an addiction to technology.

“I think that there are many, many people who end up looking at TikTok or other entertainment sites and don’t fall asleep for hours and then can’t quite understand why they’re tired the next day and they have a hard time focusing,” said Trestman.

Digital addictions have consequences. Trestman said that binge-watching TV can be time-consuming, but it’s more passive and therefore less problematic.

However, constantly scrolling, liking and sharing on social media apps or playing video games are so interactive that they can raise our stress hormones and increase the risk for anxiety and depression.

“That engages all of these stress hormones and over time that impairs our immune system,” said Trestman. “And it puts stress on our heart and it changes our biology in ways that are very harmful in the long run,” said Trestman.

Trestman said the pandemic only complicated things.

“Just the time we’re spending on these devices is less time we’re spending with other people,” said Trestman. “So many of us have been isolated and this has served as a valuable tool as an alternative to normal socialization.”

And he said the consequences are still unknown.

“We’re way ahead, in terms of technology, way ahead of either the ethics or the consequences socially,” said Trestman.

If you want to cut back, Trestman recommended that people monitor their screen time. Prioritize time for work, school, exercise or spending time with family and friends. Then scroll with the time left.

″If you prioritize the important things first, you’re going to reduce dramatically the risk of addiction because you’ll pay attention to when you aren’t accomplishing the things that really matter to you more,” said Trestman.

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