"Technology overload" can ruin relationships: expert

NEW YORK Wed Jan 23, 2008 4:27pm EST

1 of 2. In this file photo a journalist looks at her Blackberry communication device on Capitol Hill in Washington, April 18, 2007. Technology might be just as addictive as alcohol and drugs and could also wreak havoc with personal and work relationships, a leading expert said.

Credit: Reuters/Jim Young

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Technology might be just as addictive as alcohol and drugs and could also wreak havoc with personal and work relationships, a leading expert said.

John O'Neill, the director of addictions services at the Menninger Clinic in Houston, Texas refers to it as "technology overload" when he sees addiction-like behavior in his patients using cell phones or emails.

"I think they share some of the same components as people who become addicted to alcohol and drugs in that we start to see that someone cannot really put it down and cannot stop the use of it even when there are some consequences," he said in a telephone interview.

"We can become overloaded by technology and suffer consequences in our relationships," he added.

O'Neill's observations are backed up by psychologists who have classified technology addiction as an impulse disorder that can be as socially damaging as alcoholism, gambling and drug addiction.

The Internet/Computer Addiction Services in Redmond, Washington, which runs treatment programs and provides therapy, estimate that 6 to 10 percent of the approximately 189 million Internet users in the United States have a dependency on technology.

O'Neill said it's all about teaching people how to manage their behavior in a healthy way.

"How do you learn to set limits, develop boundaries, how do you make some sense out of what does it mean to healthily use the technology, or to healthily enter into a relationship with someone," O'Neill said.

He added that warning signs that someone may be sliding into an unhealthy relationship with technology include using text messages, email and voice mail when face-to-face interaction would be more appropriate, or limiting time with friends and family to tend to your email, return phone calls or to surf the Internet.

An inability to leave home without a cell phone, to relax without constantly checking email or to stop using the Internet are also worrying signs.

When the Internet becomes a more powerful draw than spending time with family or friends, or when someone pays more attention to gadgets than what is happening in real life are more danger signs.

But O'Neill said there is no reason to become alarmed about daily use of texting or emails.

"We've spent a lot of time and a lot of years talking about what does it mean to healthily use something, what does it mean to healthily drink a glass or two of wine as opposed to drinking a bottle.

"I think some people are drinking a bottle of technology and some people are able to drink a glass."

The Menninger Clinic is an international specialty psychiatric center that provides treatment, research and education.

(Reporting by Stefanie Kranjec; Editing by Patricia Reaney)