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Recognise, Understand, Act - An Overview of Media Addiction

Media addiction (also referred to as smartphone-addiction or Internet addiction) describes a condition in which a person is almost always online, finds it extremely difficult to put down the smartphone or computer, and is constantly thinking about surfing the Internet or chatting with people, even when not online. Often, online behaviour takes up such a large part of life that other everyday activities and contact with people is neglected - even if the media addicted person knows that this will have negative consequences. Physical or mental health usually suffer as well.

Recognise, Understand, Act - An Overview of Media Addiction

Nowadays, hardly any of us can imagine a day without a smartphone. A life without quick Google searches, daily contact with friends or family, or apps that shows you how to get from A to B. Undisputedly, smartphones, computers and other gadgets make our lives easier and are valuable tools for everyday life.

Nevertheless, they also have their downsides. People often spend way more time on their smartphones than they intend to. While there is nothing wrong with that per se, spending too much time online can become an actual addiction. The Internet can take over lives.

What is media addiction?

Media addiction (also referred to as smartphone-addiction or Internet addiction) describes a condition in which a person is almost always online, finds it extremely difficult to put down the smartphone or computer, and is constantly thinking about surfing the Internet or chatting with people, even when not online. Often, online behaviour takes up such a large part of life that other everyday activities and contact with people is neglected - even if the media addicted person knows that this will have negative consequences. Physical or mental health usually suffer as well.

Media addiction is a growing problem in our hyper-connected world. That is why the World Health Organization (WHO) has recognised internet addiction as a psychological disorder in 2018.

The various forms of Internet addiction explained

There are various types of online behavioural addiction, all categorised under the umbrella-term media addiction.

  • Computer gaming addiction. This is the most common form of media addiction. It involves gaming so much that one no longer has control over how long and often one plays. Gaming always comes first, regardless of neglecting other tasks, hobbies, or people. Males are more likely to be affected than females.
  • Social media addiction. Excessive and compulsive use of social media, often at the expense of other real-life activities and social interactions. Adolescents, both girls and boys, are especially affected by this.
  • Streaming addiction. This involves excessive watching of series, movies, documentaries, shows or clips on streaming services. A particularly high prevalence of streaming addicts watches a lot of pornography on the Internet. This is also described as online-pornography-addiction.
  • Online shopping addiction. In this form of online behaviour, subjects buy large amounts of products online. They do not care about what they buy, but simply about the feeling of a dopamine rush that occurs when buying something.

Each of these forms has its own importance and issues. That being said, this blog will focus primarily on computer gaming and social media addiction - because that is where coobi's expertise lies!

Prevalence of media addiction

Across Germany and across all age groups, 1-10% of the population is affected by media addiction. There are no exact figures for the different forms of addiction. According to UKE Hamburg, nearly 500,000 children and adolescents in Germany fall into the category of risky to addictive gaming behaviour, and more than 550,000 children and adolescents under social media addiction.

Smartphone addiction, computer game addiction - When is it too much?

Like many other types of behavioural addiction, media addiction develops over a period of time. At first, you are gaming every once in a while, maybe with friends or when you are bored. Progressively then you get better and better and feel like using your smartphone or PC more and more often. And before you know it, you are spending several hours a day gaming, streaming, or on social media.

Some days you get so caught up in the flow that you cancel a date with friends, do not do your homework or call in sick at work. At first, it is not a big deal. However, over time, this behaviour becomes more frequent and with greater consequences. For example, you grade at school drop and you may not be deferred. Or you have many absent days at work and are threatened with dismissal. Despite the knowledge of these negative consequences, you do not manage to change your behaviour.

In the meantime, thoughts constantly circle around gaming or social media - even when not online. You then quickly feel irritated when you cannot continue playing. You get fidgety and cannot wait to get back to your phone. To feel relaxed, you must be online more frequently and for longer and longer periods of time.

If this condition persists over a period of more than 12 months, it is very likely that we are talking about an addiction.

Symptoms of a media addiction

In summary, the typical symptoms of a media addiction are:

  • Time: One spends more time online than intended. Overall, the person is online longer and more often.
  • Loss of control: Despite wanting to spend less time online, the person fails to do so.
  • Thoughts: Thoughts always revolve around gaming/social media, even when offline.
  • Neglect of other activities: Hobbies, friends or commitments are neglected in favour of media time. Affected individuals are aware of the negative consequences, but still cannot stop their consumption.
  • Denial: Downplaying screen time to others or denying how many hours they have been online.
  • Physical and mental well-being: The personal health is neglected.

Media addiction can also co-exist with other psychological illnesses, especially ADHD, anxiety disorders, or depression.

I am addicted to my phone - now what?

If you know or believe that you are addicted to the Internet, there are various offers that can help you break out of your never-ending gaming or scrolling marathon.

Why does it matter? Constant immersion in the digital world can cause us to lose touch with reality. This can affect our relationships, our work, and our mental health. That is why we advise you to seek help as early as possible!

  • Self-help groups: Here you will meet people who know exactly how you feel. The goal is to support each other and to learn how to spend less time online. You can share your experiences, tips, and see how others are overcoming their challenges. It is incredibly motivating to see that you are not alone.
  • Psychotherapy: In the case of a real addiction, we always advise seeking professional help. A therapist can help you get to the bottom of your Internet addiction and develop strategies to change your behaviour.
    The most common form of treatment for behavioural addictions is cognitive behavioural therapy. Here, you learn to change your behaviour, as well as identify which thought spirals are sabotaging you and how to break free from them.
    In addition to cognitive behavioural therapy, there are three other forms of psychotherapy: depth psychology-based psychotherapy, psychoanalysis and systemic therapy. Which form of therapy is most suitable for oneself, depends entirely on each individual. Do not worry, your psychotherapist will know which therapy form is best suited for you.
  • If matters get out of hand and therapy hours alone are not enough, you can also get inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation treatment. Inpatient means going to a mental health clinic every day but going back home in the evenings and on the weekends. Outpatient therapy means going to a clinic for a specific period (usually 6-12 weeks at a time) for detox and living in the clinic full-time.
  • Group therapy: Similar to self-help groups, the idea here is that you share your thoughts, set goals, and celebrate successes together with others who are going through the same. In this case, the therapy session is led by a psychotherapist. Group therapy sessions are often part of inpatient and outpatient care.
  • Parent Therapy: Your family and friends can become your support team! In this therapy, they learn how to support you without overwhelming you. They will learn more about internet addiction and how they can help you find your way back to real life.
  • Motivational Interviewing: This is a kick-start to your motivation. You talk about your goals, what you want to achieve, and how to get there. A professional helps you find your inner drive and put your plan into action.
  • coobi: In the future, we will be by your side too! Coobi will become your support in everyday life. Through various measurements and short interventions, you will be able to learn and understand how to successfully change your media consumption behaviour.

These different methods all share one common end-goal: to learn a healthy and balanced approach to media. Thus, the idea is not to never use your phone or laptop again. That would be unrealistic and not desirable in our computerised world. The idea is more about finding a healthy balance of online time and your offline life, while cutting out the addictive parts.

My child/partner is addicted to computer games/mobile phones - what can I do as a relative?

First things first: Only the affected person can change their behaviour. This must come from their own motivation and willingness to change. You cannot force them to change. What you, as a family member, can do, however, is to help the person understand what (long-term) disadvantages their behaviour will have. Moreover, you can fully support the person once they are willing to change their behaviour. The following steps show you how to do this.

  • Build Trust. Offer yourself as a confidant to the person concerned. If this does not work (e.g., children sometimes have a hard time confiding in their parents), help the person identify another confidant (e.g., a sibling or family friends).
  • Take the time. To build trust and really be there for the person, you need to take the time. Listen and understand how the person is doing and where they may need help.
  • If the person is motivated to change the behaviour, you can work out goals together. The goals should be realistic, predictable, and well-defined. You can also offer to check regularly whether the goals have been met. For example, you could set media-free times together, meaning certain times of the day when the person consciously does not use the phone or laptop.
  • Strengthen motivation. Through praise and encouragement, you can help the loved one stay motivated to achieve the goals.
  • Help with distractions. Did you know that for many people media consumption is an escape from stress or difficult situations? So why not undertake an activity together that excludes digital devices? For example, you could play a round of sports together, go to a park, go out for ice cream, meet friends, or organise an crafty night.

Me, addicted? – Not possible!

We would like to end on a gentle but important note. Addiction is a big word. We understand that it can be scary to associate such a word with yourself (or loved ones). That is why it takes a lot of courage and honesty with yourself (or others) to admit that you have a problem.

Do not feel discouraged. Always remember - you are not alone! There is a lot of help out there, and it is so vital that you seek andaccept that help. Becoming aware of one’s problem is the first important step in the right direction! 🚀

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