Where Addiction Starts?

How is it that so many people are falling every day into the trap of addiction? The introduction of the internet into daily life certainly plays a role. Here’s how.

The Erikson Institute focuses its work on understanding early childhood development and training those who work with children. In a recent study it looked into technology and its influence on the development of children.

In its survey of 1,000 parents, it learned that the use of digital technology by children is almost universal. 85% of parents report they allow the very young children (under the age of 6) to use not only television — a holdover from a previous generation — but smartphones, tablets, and computers as well. 

Only 15% of parents did not allow their very young children regular access to technology. 

The more important question that must be raised along with quantity of use, is whether or not technology undermines the quality of parent-child relationships. How many parents use technology as a substitute of personal engagement with their 3-6 year old? The absence of emotional presence in early years can set-up obstacles that hinder once ability to enter into relationships of healthy intimacy in the future. 

Sexual experience mediated by technology has become one of the of primary influences that undermines health intimacy. 

Dr. Craig Malkin, a lecturer as Harvard Medical School notes that a growing number of people experience what he calls “cybercelibacy”. He defines this as interaction with technology as a substitute for developing relationships with other people. This includes friendships as well a romantic attachments. 

What drives “cybercelibacy”? According to Dr. Malkin many people turn to technology as a substitute for a relationship with real people because technology is safe and predictable. It is something one can control. 

A person who experiences even mild social anxiety turns to a computer (for example) as a way to avoid the challenge of confronting the risk of another person. As this choice is rewarded by mild distraction, the natural anxiety associated the risk of relationship grows. Because one avoids personal encounter, one never learns that other people are a source for joy rather than a center of risk.

Furthermore, as the the stick of social anxiety grows, the carrot of cyber-relief also grows.

“But the problem of cybercelibacy is deeper and more far-reaching than its potential to reinforce shyness or social anxiety,” says Dr. Malkin. “Once we’ve turned away from the world around us in favor of online games or Facebook or pornography, the thrill we get doesn’t just offer respite from our loneliness. It replaces our need for connection and intimacy, temporarily, with a euphoria we then come to crave.”

Is it possible that an addiction to pornography, something we normally associate with sexual addiction may begin for some people with an unintentional orientation to celibacy that is conditioned by never having learned to feel save with people?

When 85% of children under the age of 6 are introduced to the easy, risk-free world of technology, one wonders how they will ever learn to navigate the much more rewarding, real world of healthy relationships with others.