Addiction as Metaphor [...]

There was a dust-up last week following a New York Post story which described digital technologies as "digital heroin." The Verge responded with its own article, "Why calling screentime 'digital heroin' is digital garbage." The debates -- whether about technologies or porn or food -- all revolve around "what counts" as addiction.

From The Verge article:

Kardaras’ loose talk on addiction is what makes his argument so tough to believe. About 1.6 percent of Americans use heroin, but a quarter of them wind up addicted, according to an estimate from the National Institutes of Drug Addiction. Something like 16 percent of cocaine users become dependent on the drug within 10 years of trying it for the first time, say scientists in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology. Digital devices, as well as video games, are far more widespread than either of these drugs. If they were, in fact, comparable, we should be seeing a lot more people displaying "catatonia," with their iPads dropped dramatically beside them.

The tech-as-addiction metaphor is sloppy, though it might not be wrong. The problem is we don’t have a good handle on what qualifies as tech addiction — if it exists at all, how common it is, and what kind of environmental and physiological conditions predispose someone to it.

Substance use disorder — that regular ol’ drug addiction — is a recognized condition in the latest version of the psychiatric Bible, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders; technology abuse disorder is not. Internet gaming disorder is in a special section called "the research appendix," where the DSM’s authors relegate conditions that do not have sufficient evidence for existence — but where more research might be useful. While it’s true, as Kardaras pointed out, that the DSM is not without flaw — it did, after all, list homosexuality as a disorder until 1973 — whether to list internet gaming disorder or internet addiction was hotly debated.

What does it mean to label something "addictive"? Is this a scientific observation, a medical diagnosis, or is this a cultural designation and as such something that constantly changes based on society's shifting values?

From Stanton Peele:

Although it is true that labeling something addictive is a politically and socially symbolic act, it is also true that what we experience as addictive in a given time and place is determined by cultural beliefs.

 

 

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Audrey Watters

Writer. Troublemaker.