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'Tech addiction' is a growing problem: counsellor

VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) – How concerned should you be about becoming hooked on your smartphone, tablet and other digital devices?

As gizmo geeks go ga-ga over the latest gadgets at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, a local counsellor says looking down the road, he’s concerned for our health.

Benjamin Wong with the Richmond Addiction Services Society says since late 2007, an average of 20 to 30 families a year have come to his agency for help with digital addiction.

“By families, I’m referring to either individuals coming or family members bringing their concerns of a loved one using gadgets — being on video games for longer than normal hours — bringing these concerns to us. And by digital addiction, we refer to any behaviour that people do on screens digitally that are affecting their life with negative consequences.”

He says behaviours range from video games to pornography, online shopping, and misuse of social media, including cyber-bullying.

Wong is especially concerned about something called “techno stress.” That’s when people become anxious over what they see online or when they don’t have their phone or some other device with them.

“It can contribute to mental health issues. It can especially worsen attentional problems, as well as mood disorders. People diagnosed with depression and anxiety as well as attentional deficit disorders, they tend to fare worse in their conditions if technology begins to take hold of their lives. So, in my mind, there’s no question it is a public health concern. Up to this point, I’m not seeing a lot of health authorities going in the direction of expanding their service level to that extent, however. Even just anecdotally, speaking with colleagues within the mental health realm, they are seeing the use of technology being a topic of discussion, if not a presenting problem.”

Wong is aware of only two publicly funded agencies in Canada that treat digital addictions.

If you’re struggling with tech addiction, he advises you talk to loved ones you can trust, look at resources offered in your community, talk to your family doctor, and perhaps seek out private practitioners who have experience in this area.