Is digital addiction as bad as drugs?

A cop caught an addict with drugs in a public toilet.

"I swear, it's not mine. I found it here and tried to flush it down the toilet, but every time I flush, it magically reappears in my hand!" he told the cop.

"I don't believe you," said the cop. "Show me."

So, he tosses the bag of drugs into the toilet and flushes it. The bag swishes down. Staring pointedly at the man's empty hands, the cop asks, "Where are the drugs now?"

The addict replies, "What drugs?"

This left the cop scratching his head about how he could let the evidence get flushed down. 

Similarly, the current generation of youngsters is smarter than their parents, dodging them on their use of screen time, which can be dubbed digital addiction. Sadly, like all addictions, it starts on a small scale, and it's often too late by the time parents realise the damage.

Digital or internet addiction is an "umbrella term that refers to the compulsive need to spend a great deal of time on the internet, to the point where relationships, work and health are allowed to suffer."

Excessive screen time today includes games and social media among youth and the older generation, threatening the next generation too. What is worse is online gaming, which often leads to an addiction to gambling.

Digital devices such as smartphones, tablets, and desktop computers are commonly considered essential to the young generation, aiding them in schoolwork, etc. But it becomes a problem when you have unlimited access to them, so much so that it negatively impacts your physical and mental health, social life, and academic performance, let alone pushing many to commit crimes.

How do you know that someone is digitally addicted? Here are some common indicators: excessive screen time, withdrawal symptoms from family affairs, neglecting responsibilities, loss of interest in other recreational and social activities, staying awake at night, and seeking privacy.

Dealing with online gaming addiction can be as difficult a process as drug addiction. Steps to manage the issue include earlier detection, setting limits, breaking the behavioural cycle, finding alternative hobbies, joining a support group, and seeking professional help as a last resort.

While it may be inappropriate to compare digital gaming addiction with drug addiction, the sooner we acknowledge that both are serious conditions with negative consequences and difficult to overcome, the better.

In 2019, the World Health Organisation recognised "Gaming Disorder" as a mental health condition. It was officially added to the International Classification of Diseases in 2022. Countries like China and Korea have already taken measures that forbid children under sixteen from playing online video games from midnight to 6 am. They also banned online gambling. Both countries have started operating digital rehab centres to deal with this addiction.

As the world is on a fast digital track, digital devices and platforms offer valuable educational, social, and entertainment opportunities, which can be immensely beneficial if used in moderation. Hence it is crucial, especially for young users, to learn how to balance their digital use and make responsible choices about when, where, and how to engage with technology.

In Bangladesh, digital addiction is still an urban phenomenon. But it is only a matter of time before it will spread countrywide if there are no regulations to protect our youth and our future from this virus.

The author is founder and managing director of BuildCon Consultancies Ltd