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DIGITAL COCAINE

A friend recently sent me a flyer about a talk that was going to take place at Beaumont Primary School. The topic was “Digital Cocaine”. As a recovering addict and a Holisitc Counsellor, speciliasing in addiction, I was extremely interested to attend the event. I am aware of the extent of what we call “screen and/or technology addiction” and was interested in learning more.

This event was last night and these are my thoughts.

I have not heard of Brad Huddleston before and was surprised the learn that Brad is not only a Computer Scientist, but also a religious Minister. In the world according to Freddie, these two fields are virtually mutually exclusive, but Brad is proving that it is indeed possible to smoothly integrate the two. He is also the author of a book called “Digital Cocaine”. A preview of the book can be found here: Preview and is available for purchase at Amazon.

The talk had a very religious slant. I liked how Brad reminded the audience that he lives in the truth and does not enjoy the fact that he is the one who has to break the news and tell the truth about technology addiction to the audience. He reminded us to keep in mind that he loves people and he does this job, because of his love for people.

Brad spent some time to discuss the pleasure centres in our brains, mostly related to the nucleus accumbens. My understanding of the process is as follows: If and when we do things that we enjoy, dopamine (a neurotransmitter that helps to control the brain’s reward and pleasure centres) is sent to the nucleus accumbens. The more we do these thing we enjoy, like playing computer games, doing drugs or having sex, the more dopamine are sent to the pleasure centres and we basically “flood” our brain with dopamine. In order to prevent this flooding, our brain automatically forms something resembling a firewall around the nucleus accumbens. This leads to what is called tolerance and is one of the first signs of addiction. This means that we now need to do more and more of our guilty pleasure in order get the same amount of joy. Over time, as we chase more and more pleasure, we need to spend more resources (time, energy, money etc.) on achieving this. This is called the progression of the disease of addiction. The barrier gets bigger and stronger, which means that normal amounts of dopamine cannot reach the pleasure centres. The result is that we stop experiencing pleasure. This is called anhedonia. (Please note that the references to tolerance, progression and disease of addiction are mine and were not used by Brad in his presentation.)

Anhedonia causes us to feel bored and even depressed. We are unable to experience joy and satisfaction and may feel emotionally dead. When anhedonia sets in, we lose connection. We isolate ourselves from others and, as Brad indicated, even from our sense of spirituality, our “God-connection” - whatever that may mean to you. The brain cannot distinguish between the pleasure derived from a line of cocaine, listening to a great song, a beautiful sermon or a computer game. The barrier in our brain that causes anhedonia, does not just filter out the pleasure from what we have become addited to, but it filters out all pleasure.

Neuroscientist have been able to provide us with brain scans to show how addiction to various substances damages our brain. To view some of these images, please visit Addiction Recovery Centre of Temecula. Brad showed us how the brain scan of a technology addict looks very similar to that of a herion and porn addict. In other words, there is virtually no difference between the brain damage caused by heroin and/or porn addiction and the damage caused by technology addiction. I found this incredibly shocking and disturbing.

I derived from Brad’s book, “Digital Cocaine”, that digital activity that lasts for longer than an hour, pushes the adrenal system to its limits. Over a period of time, this causes the damage to the brain indicated above. Researchers are, as yet, unable to pinpoint exactly how much damage takes place after how long over one hour spent with technology. They do strongly believe though that a one hour cut off time is a safe limit to impose.

Brad also explained how digital multitasking contribute to negative chemical changes in the brain. This is linked to anxiety and depression. Brad then did a little “experiment” to prove to the audience that multitasking is indeed a myth. He let us read a poem from the video screen, while at the same time listen to a different poem. This experiment could not have been longer than 45 seconds, at the most. Not one person in the audience managed to have a comperhension of both poems. According to Brad, multitasking cannot be done. When we think we are multitasking, all we are doing is “task switching”. We are merely switching our attention from the one task to the other, thinking we are consentrating on both tasks.

The problem with multitasking, or as we now know, task-switching, is that the brain releases stress hormones and adrenaline, when we attempt it. The stress hormone, cortisol, can potentially cause us to gain wait, while it also causes impulsivity and aggression.

It is not strange that people who are detoxed from technology experience the same withdrawal symptoms as drug addicts in detox. They become irritable, angry, depressed and even have flu-like symptoms, including headaches and body pains.

What is the answer to the digital addiction problem?

As is the case for any addiction, there is help. Brad showed us brain scans of a teenage boy before getting treatment for his digital addiction and six weeks later. The difference in his brain activity between the two scans is amazing.

The answer to treating addiction is abstinence. This is also the case with digital addiction. Stop doing the things you are doing that damage you.

Brad, with his religious slant, made it clear that the person should put technology down and walk the path with God. Although I have absolutly no doubt that God can and will help if He is asked, my personal experience is that most addicts need assistance to get to the place of accepting this help. Sometimes therapy is needed to help the addict to break through denial. Long term healing is significantly enhanced when we can get behind what contributes to the addictive behaviour.

To find out more about treatment for technology addiction, feel free to contact me. My website address is Freddie Counsellor. I offer a 24 day step coaching and counselling programme to help people address their addictions.

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