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TFI Insights: Defining an Addiction

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TFI Talks is thrilled to feature guests posts by our expert clinicians. Today’s post is by Dr. Steve Du Bois, Morgan Postdoctoral Clinical Research Fellow at The Family Institute. 

An addiction occurs when several criteria are met. Together, these criteria indicate a dependence on something. These criteria relate to both behaviors you engage in, and physiological processes you experience. These include attempting to cut back on something, but being unsuccessful; spending a significant amount of your time engaging in activities related to whatever you’re addicted to; and needing increasingly more of whatever you’re addicted to, to get the desired effect from it.

In the field of Psychology, addiction and dependence have been applied to substances, mostly — things like alcohol and cocaine. However, someone can be dependent on/addicted to other things as well, for example, gambling. Dependence on both substances and gambling are recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which is the book psychologists and other mental health professionals use to make diagnoses of things like Dependence. However, at present, dependence on/addiction to technology is not in the DSM.

On a recent CBS-2 Chicago news segment, a reporter asked me if someone could be addicted to technology. During the interview, I stated that although people can be dependent on something, the DSM does not formally acknowledge technology addiction. Parts of the interview were cut together and the aired segment infers that I said “sure, someone can be addicted to technology.” Please understand that currently, there is no formal diagnosis for technology addiction. Even though someone may demonstrate symptoms consistent with dependence on technology, it is not valid to say that psychologists recognize this phenomenon as an official, formalized addiction to technology.

When working with clients, I focus on the symptoms of disorders they are experiencing, not giving them the diagnostic label of the disorder itself. In other words, I treat an individual’s symptoms, not an individual’s disorder. I always take seriously the symptoms of dependence/addiction, even if, as is the case with technology, there is no formal addiction diagnosis. With each person, I consider their unique combination of past experiences and current thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that relate to these symptoms of dependence. I collaborate with each person to assess how they perceive these symptoms (problematic, not problematic, etc.), and to construct a treatment plan with them that matches their goals of addressing/reducing these symptoms.

Dr. Steve Du Bois received his PhD in Clinical Psychology from The University of Illinois at Chicago, and his BA in Psychology from the University of Michigan Honors Program. He also conducts research on psychological and behavioral health. Dr. Du Bois has nine published research articles, and has given over 15 presentations at professional national and international research conferences.

To read Dr. Du Bois’ full bio, visit our website.

To find out more about our affordable counseling services, visit our services webpage.

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