Addictions have become the new normal. The variety of addiction boggles the mind! If it is possible to eat it, snort it, inject it, feel it, see it, or do there are people addicted to it. How to respond to those who are entrapped by the every-multiplying products is a challenge to health providers and others who care about human health. This includes faith-based organizations. We Adventists were pioneers in development of programs to assist people to conquer tobacco addiction. The more recent addictive agents demand more sophisticated response. For example, the digital world is a new form of addiction that draws in people of all ages and economic levels. The impact on physical and mental health is worrisome to health professionals and should be of concern to religious organizations.
On March 15, 2012, Jason Russell, an evangelical Christian, was filmed running naked in the streets near his Southern California home. San Diego police were called as Russell ran about screaming incoherently. He was taken to a local hospital where, according to a family statement, he was diagnosed with reactive psychosis brought on by exhaustion, stress and dehydration. The story does not end here. According to a recent NEWSWEEK article (July 16, 2012, p. 26) there may have been more to the story than the irrational behavior of an obscure film-maker.
The article goes on to suggest that the negative response to his documentary about the African warlord Joseph Kony may have put Russell into a mental funk. In response he entered an intense swirl of bizarre twitters that, after eight days of sleep depravation and text messaging, he sent a final tweet—a quote form Martin Luther King Jr. “If you can’t fly, then run, if you can’t run, then walk, if you can’t walk, then crawl, but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.” At this point he took of his clothes, went outside, walked to the corner he is reported to have begun slapping the concrete with both palms and ranted about the devil. The video of this event went viral. Russell left the hospital after more than four months of treatment.
The NEWSWEEK report of Jason Russell’s “reactive psychosis,’ a form of temporary insanity, was one segment of a larger article: How connection addiction is rewiring our brains. The article reports that there is now scientific evidence from around the world to document that “…the current incarnation of the Internet—portable, social, accelerated, and all-pervasive—may be making us not just dumber or lonelier but more depressed and anxious, prone to obsessive-compulsive and attention-deficit disorders, even outright psychotic. Our digitized minds can scan like those of drug addicts, and normal people are breaking down in sad and seemingly new ways,” (p. 26). As a result of studies like this and others, when the new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is released next year, Internet Addiction Disorder will be included for the first time.
In less than a generation, the NEWSWEEK article observes, we have become people merged with our machines. We sit transfixed before our screens more than eight hours a day. The average person sends or receives some 400 texts p; the average teen some 3,700 texts per month. And many of us suffer from “phantom vibration syndrome.” We feel our cell phones vibrate, when in fact nothing is happening.
It is not the Internet, the technology, nor the content that drives us crazy. It is the effect our electronic gizmos have on our mental and emotional health that has caught the attention of researchers around the world. “Peter Whybrow, the director of the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA, argues that ‘the computer is like electronic cocaine,’ fueling cycles of mania followed by depressive stretches. The Internet ‘leads to behavior that people are conscious is not in their best interest and does leave them anxious and does make them act compulsively,’ says Nicholas Carr, whose book The Shallows, about the Web’s effect on cognition, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize,” p. 27.
An article in the journal Pediatrics noted the rise of “‘a new phenomenon called ‘Facebook depression,’ and explained that ‘the intensity of the online world may trigger depression.; doctors, according to the report published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, should work digital usage questions into every annual checkup,” (p. 29).
Elias Aboujaude, a psychiatrist at Stanford University School of Medicine, where he directs the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Clinic and Impulse Control Disorders Clinic, says School of Medicine, “‘I’ve seen plenty of patents who have no history of addictive behavior—or substance abuse of any kind—become addicted via the internet and these other technologies,’” (p. 28). In his studies of our digitized world he wonders some digitized selves should be counted as a legitimate, pathological ‘alter of sorts,’ like the alter egos documented in cases of multiple personality disorder,” (p 30) .
The Gold brothers, Joel, a psychiatrist at New York University, and Ian, a philosopher and psychiatrist at McGill University, are investigating technology’s potential to sever people’s ties with reality fueling hallucinations, delusions, and genuine psychosis, Researchers at Tel Aviv University last year published what they believe are the first documented cases of “‘Internet-related psychosis,’” (p. 30).
Health, for Adventists, has been a traditional strong point in our belief system. Eat right, drink right, live right. The body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. We promote abstinence from harmful habits and foods. Should we pastors in our sermons address the use and misuse of the Internet and Social Media? Studies document that excessive Web use is detrimental to mental health. Is there need to design a Five Day Plan to Stop Texting? Is there a opportunity to hold retreats that provide help for those who wish to free themselves from their addiction to Facebook? Or ought we get on with our lives and stay merged with our technological wizardry? What do you think?