Is cell phone addiction the same as drug addiction? Expert responds

If you are anxious to imagine a world without Facebook, Instagram or WhatsApp, watch your dependence on new technologies. You may be addicted.

This experiment already occurred on October 4, when millions of people were frustrated when these three services were turned off for six hours.

A frustration that, in its extreme examples, there are those who dare to compare it with a abstinence syndrome like the one suffered by quitting drugs, alcohol or tobacco.

It may seem like an exaggerated comparison, but the Spanish psychologist Marc Masip defends it tooth and nail.

“The mobile is the heroine of the XXI century”, he says bluntly.

Part of her job is to provide therapy at detox clinics for tech addicts.

A rehabilitation that can become even more difficult than that of drugs, “because everyone already has assumed that these are bad, while the new technologies we all use without knowing how much damage they can do”, explains Masip in this interview with BBC Mundo.

When we ran out of Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram, you quickly took to Twitter to compare technologies with heroin and ironically wish us a “Happy withdrawal syndrome.” Many may consider this an exaggerated comparison. Why do you argue?

Because it was crazy and there you realize the importance we give it.

People freaked out when in reality nothing was happening. We are all a little lost. Addictions are all addictions and there is not much difference between drug addiction and cell phone addiction.

It is true that drugs cannot be used well and the mobile phone can. That is an advantage.

There are people who compare your cell phone to a hammer, saying that it can be used well or badly, but I don’t know any addicted to the hammer.

When we do not have the technology, as happens when WhatsApp or Facebook goes down, we all get a discomfort, a withdrawal syndrome. The comparison with heroin seems good to me because we are not yet aware of all the damage it can do.

When heroin was used, it was not known how bad it was and in the end many people died. Hopefully it is not like that now, but there are people who die because they use their cell phones even when they drive.

Not to mention what certain people suffer with cases of bullying in social networks. There are mental health consequences that we still don’t understand from cell phone abuse.

With heroin there were two endings: you died from an overdose or you were sent to a detox clinic. What about technology addiction?

We already work in detox clinics, because addiction can lead to serious mental and even physical health problems.

We are seeing consequences in the academic performance of young people, traffic accidents that can get worse, anxiety, stress, frustration, eating disorders triggered by Instagram and the type of images that get hung.

We see how young people communicate through the screen quickly, easily and comfortably, but then in the face to face they are cowards and do not have enough tools to empathize, look or hug.

But the worst thing is above all the dependency, how people’s mood changes for the worse when they run out of Facebook or WhatsApp.

It is a problem, because dependence is the opposite of freedom.

Marc Masip tries to re-educate young people about the proper use of new technologies. (Photo: DISCONNECT)

What do they do at the detox clinic?

We give a reeducation treatment on the proper use of networks and screens. It is a really complicated task.

If you think about it, when you deal with a heroin, cocaine, or marijuana addiction, parts of it are already frowned upon socially. People assume that smoking, drinking, and getting high are bad.

With technologies it is more difficult because it is not about stopping using it. What you have to do is re-educate so that it is better used. And it’s not easy when everyone around you uses it equally.

In our treatment, it is very important for the patient to overcome this awareness phase in which they assume to what extent it is good to use a technology.

Photo of hands tied to the cord of a telephone.
“Dependence is the complete opposite of freedom.” (Photo: GETTY IMAGES)

It reminds me of the situation many parents face when they set out to keep their youngest children away from technology, but then can’t stop everyone around them from using it. In the end, many end up giving in because they don’t want their children to feel left out.

That is a false fear of parents from affection and love.

We think that our children will not have friends if they do not have a telephone and social networks, but that is a lie. Children with phones may or may not have friends, and children without phones may or may not have friends. That is more linked to the personality and the family and school environment.

But of course, we think that since all children or adolescents have a telephone, ours must also have them.

We have to take care of the child of the screens so that he does not need them so much. For a boy, have a smartphone before 16 brings more disadvantages than advantages. Without training, without knowing how to use it correctly, the bad thing that the good of a mobile phone has more weight in the child.

Because, in the end, what does a smartphone? That your parents have control in case something happens to you? This can also be done with a normal phone. In fact, if they come to kidnap you, they will hardly let you call your parents.

If teens have a smartphone, it’s mostly because of social media. But what do social networks bring you? Do youLikes? That is not a real contribution. The likes they are just a beast of dopamine.

It is important that we understand that in our social networks we always show our best version. But that best version is not always close to reality. In fact, the further the virtual self moves away from the real self, the more frustration is generated.

And that frustration befriends dependency and addiction.

It is important to educate, especially the youngest, that it is not necessary to always want to show what we are not or what we would like to be in order to be accepted. You have to work a lot on the self-esteem of young people.

Marc Masip.
Masip is against children accessing a mobile phone before the age of 16. (Photo: MARC MASIP)

There is much talk that technology is already advancing at a speed that we do not even understand, not only we, but also the institutions themselves. How can we safeguard ourselves from something we don’t even fully understand?

We are sold before the technological advance because companies seek to have the highest possible use for their own benefit. There is hardly any regulation and education for families and schools on the responsible use of technology is very poor.

The solution passes through state laws that govern the proper use of new technologies and today there are none.

There are no tools to educate the younger population, who are the ones who use them the most. We are letting technology advance freely and the consequences are obvious.

WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook icons on a mobile phone.
The first week of October was difficult for Facebook. Not only did she suffer a six-hour blackout, but she is also facing public scrutiny following revelations from a former employee about alleged unethical practices by the company. (Photo: GETTY IMAGES)

Despite positions like yours, it feels like the world is heading to be even more interconnected. What prospects do we have then? Based on your accounts, it seems worrisome.

It is true that the technological world pulls so that the future continues to be very technological. But we must be clear about the premise that the real will always overcome the virtual.

No matter how much technology they create and no matter how much money they invest, no one is going to be able to give you a hug like someone else or a kiss like the person you love.

As long as there are people who continue to have that clear and understood, we would already have a lot of cattle. It is true that technology is going to push, but I also believe that humans will.

I trust that we will take a little step back in technology to take three more in the human. Assume that yes, we have a lot of technology, but that there are limits.

The time will come when those who use networks and mobile phones well will be more cool than the one who is hyper-hooked all day.

Is there a technique that allows us to self-diagnose our degree of addiction?

Self-diagnosis is always tricky.

One should be helped, but it is not always easy. I can give you some signs to detect dependency or addiction.

First, measure your withdrawal syndrome. If you need to consume something when you don’t have it. It is something very evident in drugs, but it also happens with new technologies.

Also watch if you substitute activities, if you stop doing something to be more aware of the mobile. It can happen when you spend time with family, work, drive, play sports or leave the house.

Attend if the mobile evades you. If you take it to see something and an hour passes without you noticing. With those examples you can evaluate yourself very well.

And how can we use technology wisely?

You have to apply a lot of common sense.

It is important that we use technology when you provide us with a service. For that we pay for it. Now, for example, I have to go to a meeting. So I use technology to get me to the meeting place.

You can also take advantage of your mobile to send an email without having to pick up the computer. But do not use it in a meal or when you are with other people. Nor when you work, spend time with your friends, with your partner or before going to sleep.

Don’t let it pass over you. WhatsApp can be a very useful tool, but if the server goes down, it is not essential either.

Kid playing.

There are governments like the one of China that are intervening directly, especially with video games among minors. But are these interventions enough? What would be enough to really make an impact against technology addiction?

Governments have to put state laws in place immediately, such as banning telephones in the classroom, imposing stronger regulations if you drive with your mobile and restricting clearly addictive sections of certain applications.

Each parent educates as they can or as they want, but there would have to be a regime on large companies so that they cannot do everything they want.

It is not normal for any minor to enter to view pornography or play a harmful video game that is violent, has financial rewards or that punishes you if you abandon a game.

We have to legislate technology companies towards good use.

But how can global, interconnected companies be legislated without a global consensus? It seems somewhat distant.

It is complicated, but we have already seen that with the coronavirus the majority of the world agreed.

But yes, it is not valid with the solution that is imposed in each house. The solution must be global.

It is necessary to legislate on the applications themselves, the companies themselves, so that later things get right to the rest of the world, without harmful or addictive elements.

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