Is Technology Use a Risk To Sobriety?

By John K. Kriger

boy drinking playing video game

For many individual’s addiction is confounding, frustrating and destructive. Whether it’s sugar, caffeine, nicotine, shopping, gambling, alcohol or drugs, it seems no one is exempt. Everyone struggles with something. For many, involvement in these behaviors doesn’t appear to cause an issue. However, for many, their involvement proves problematic and even disastrous.

Over the past 10 years, I have been struck by the similarities in addiction, and our use of technology. Along with observations and discussions with thousands of individuals in  recovery, social workers, school nurses and parents, I began this curious journey examining the similarities of Substance Use Disorder and today’s technology use. In my book, Turned On and Tuned Out: A Guide to Understanding and Managing Tech  Dependence, I first explored the DSM IV criteria for Substance Abuse and Dependence (now DSM Criteria V, Substance Use Disorder) and paralleled it to the use of technology. I questioned whether the criteria and the use patterns of tech were similar. Writing this book helped confirmed and allowed me to better understand how the devices we use today are designed to be addictive. My observations are now echoed by many of the former tech designers of the major tech industry giants. As I look forward, my concern is the compulsive, unwitting potential it presents to anyone in addiction recovery.

Today, it’s almost impossible to be an active member of society without using some form of  technology; but at what cost? Have you ever watched a young child look at photos on an iPad or phone? Their finger swiftly swipes picture after picture with excited, reactive anticipation as the images fly from one to the next to the next. With each swipe, studies tell us dopamine is released into the brain, the same pleasure inducing chemicals released in drug use. Admittedly a minimal dose, but is this small but continual and consistent release of this chemical priming our children for addiction? In a 2013 statement by American Academy of Pediatrics, children 8 to 10 reportedly spend 8 hours per day and teens 11 hours per day on their screens. With this level of technology use, and the constant disbursal of dopamine, are children constantly being stimulated and conditioned? Are we priming our children for addiction? Could this be a trigger for someone in recovery?

For anyone with an addictive personality or disorders, how is technology impacting them? I immediately go to the foundations of recovery principals found in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), and promoted in most treatment centers; Life on life’s terms. This mantra is often a basic foundation of recovery, but online this appears to be a foreign concept. The online world promotes detachment in fantasy and isolation. Through social networking,  opportunities to promote your fake and idealized self-abound. How does this not create a paradox, a dissonance between the promoted self, and living life on life’s terms? It seems only reasonable that this could create a real and significant problem, especially for young people and those early in recovery.

The social avoidance through texting and messaging allows and promotes avoidance when dealing with family members, interpersonal problems, new relationships and situations you  want to avoid. Today you literally go through life never having to deal with another human  being, whether banking, ordering food or making appointments. For those wanting to maintain their recovery, learning to live life on life’s terms means being present, not avoiding life’s discomforts. To live fully- learn and practice functional ways to accept both the pain and joys of life. Part of acceptance is meeting life head on. The negative behaviors recovery confronts are often promoted, modeled and pathologically preached online. Excess, immediate gratification, isolating, manipulation, and reactive thinking are actions causing us to be more like humans doing, than human beings.

Social comparison and isolation are two substantial risk factors for relapse. I once heard  someone say at a meeting, “My head is a bad neighborhood. I can’t afford to spend too much time there!” The worse thing someone in recovery can do is to isolate. Spend too much time “inside” and you begin to lose self-awareness, and a balanced perspective. Addiction is a condition of imbalance.

Today, too much time is spent perfecting our image, internalizing, disconnecting or obsessing on ourselves, or the lives of others. This is the realm of social network media hawks circling over the smallest details of the rich, famous or absurd.

Through interpersonal relationships and externalizing your thoughts and feelings, you stay connected to the world, your emotions and your daily insights. Isolating keeps you from furthering self-awareness, placing you in situations where you can easily be manipulated by the people, places and things. Those in early recovery are especially vulnerable, still establishing a positive self-concept and a positive social network. On social networking sites, people fabricate, exaggerate and often seek to eliminate perceptions of pain and suffering. Perfection is a myth. The person who suffers from self doubt, depression, or is impressionable may engage in socially comparing themselves to others, asking, ‘’What does that say about me? “

Success in life is measured by comparing yourself as you are, to what you could be. Comparing yourself to others is a false measurement! A primary challenge in gaining and  maintaining recovery is staying away from things that trigger negative behaviors and stinking thinking! People online often model compulsive, addictive, self-injurious and  unbalanced behaviors. Do you really want to delve into entertaining behaviors that can derail you? Actions have consequences. For someone in recovery, denying reality, obsessing over things you can’t change, intruding on the lives of others, having affairs, gossiping, pornography, drinking and drug use, gambling and being foundationally dishonest are often mistakenly perceived as harmless and done anonymously; which they are not! What you do, watch, entertain and practice, you tend to become.

Recovery is about living one day at a time through fully experiencing all life has to offer.  With all of the challenges faced on the internet, it’s essential to recognize the dangers. Stay connected to real positive people and if needed seek guidance in managing it, one day at a time.

John is a nationally and internationally recognized keynote speaker, author, consultant and content expert presenter. As the President of Kriger Consulting, Inc., he specializes in the health services arena, providing consulting and public speaking on advocacy through public speaking, leadership, management and team development. John is the author of The Pond: A Small Book About Making Big Changes, which is a required reading for the Johnson  and Johnson School Health Leadership Institute. His newest book: Turned On & Tuned Out: A Guide to Understanding Technology Dependence, has sold over 2500 copies. He is in the process of writing his third book on the impact of technology on anxiety and  depression, violence and predatory behavior. He holds a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Human Services, a Master’s of Science Degree in Management and is a NJ Licensed Clinical Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselor, and a Nationally Certified Prevention Specialist.

References Provided Upon Request