Vikram Sinha (name changed) was a high achiever. The 21-year-old had excelled in academics. But, that’s before he got hooked to Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPG) last year. There were days when he would spend 16 hours at a stretch competing with players online. Today, he is under treatment and doctors are working on reinforcing his social skills, which he had sadly lost during his addiction.
On an average, four persons from Bengaluru seek treatment for addiction to technology every week, say doctors at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS).
A teenager, introverted by nature, finds solace in social networking sites and says that face-to-face interactions are traumatic. A young business executive is compelled to respond to every instant message he receives, often as many as 300 a day.
Such manifestations of technology addiction are endemic to a society that is constantly hooked onto smart phones, tablets, gaming consoles, and other gadgets that give users 24/7 access to the internet. And if unchecked, it can become a public health issue in urban areas, say doctors.
Not only does tech addiction reduce efficiency, it can cause adverse social behavioural changes among users. Instant access to the internet is like ‘quicksand’ with many users, including children and teenagers, getting sucked into gaming, social media, shopping portals and even pornography sites. This compulsion to consume has driven many people to seek professional help.
‘Not a vice’
“Technology addiction is not a vice,” says Vivek Benegal, professor at the Department of Psychiatry, NIMHANS. “When a vulnerable individual repeatedly uses a substance or behaves in a certain way, it leads to long-term changes in the structure and functioning of the brain. In case of technology addiction, for example gaming, the activity works on the reward circuits of the brain, and the user continues playing the game to attain the state, which he often doesn’t achieve,” said Dr. Benegal.
Healthy use of technology
Apart from this, the SHUT, or Service for Healthy Use of Technology, clinic at NIMHANS specialises in technology de-addiction and has treated over 110 cases since its launch in 2014. “A large number of persons we have treated are in the age group of 16 to 22 of whom 80 per cent were addicted to video games. The rest are addicted to the internet and smart phones,” said Manoj Kumar Sharma, senior counsellor at SHUT and professor in the Department of Clinical Psychology at NIMHANS.
According to Dr. Sharma, the number of people seeking medical assistance for tech obsession has drastically increased in the last two years and treating the condition is challenging and time-consuming. “The cases are bound to escalate in the coming years. Awareness is the only remedy,” he added.