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Cell Phone Addiction
What is smartphone addiction?
While a smartphone, tablet, or computer can be a hugely productive tool, compulsive use of these devices can interfere with work, school, and relationships. When you spend more time on social media or playing games than you do interacting with real people, or you can’t stop yourself from repeatedly checking texts, emails, or apps—even when it has negative consequences in your life—it may be time to reassess your technology use.
Smartphone addiction, sometimes colloquially known as “nomophobia” (fear of being without a mobile phone), is often fueled by an Internet overuse problem or Internet addiction disorder. After all, it’s rarely the phone or tablet itself that creates the compulsion, but rather the games, apps, and online worlds it connects us to.
Smartphone addiction can encompass a variety of impulse-control problems, including:
Virtual relationships. Addiction to social networking, dating apps, texting, and messaging can extend to the point where virtual, online friends become more important than real-life relationships. We’ve all seen the couples sitting together in a restaurant ignoring each other and engaging with their smartphones instead. While the Internet can be a great place to meet new people, reconnect with old friends, or even start romantic relationships, online relationships are not a healthy substitute for real-life interactions. Online friendships can be appealing as they tend to exist in a bubble, not subject to the same demands or stresses as messy, real-world relationships. Compulsive use of dating apps can change your focus to short-term hookups instead of developing long-term relationships.
Information overload. Compulsive web surfing, watching videos, playing games, or checking news feeds can lead to lower productivity at work or school and isolate you for hours at a time. Compulsive use of the Internet and smartphone apps can cause you to neglect other aspects of your life, from real-world relationships to hobbies and social pursuits.
Cybersex addiction. Compulsive use of Internet pornography, sexting, nude-swapping, or adult messaging services can impact negatively on your real-life intimate relationships and overall emotional health. While online pornography and cybersex addictions are types of sexual addiction, the Internet makes it more accessible, relatively anonymous, and very convenient. It’s easy to spend hours engaging in fantasies impossible in real life. Excessive use of dating apps that facilitate casual sex can make it more difficult to develop long-term intimate relationships or damage an existing relationship.
Online compulsions, such as gaming, gambling, stock trading, online shopping, or bidding on auction sites like eBay can often lead to financial and job-related problems. While gambling addiction has been a well-documented problem for years, the availability of Internet gambling has made gambling far more accessible. Compulsive stock trading or online shopping can be just as financially and socially damaging. eBay addicts may wake up at strange hours in order to be online for the last remaining minutes of an auction. You may purchase things you don’t need and can’t afford just to experience the excitement of placing the winning bid.
Smartphone Addiction Facts
Although cell phones allow individuals to have unlimited access to information and to connect with others in a way otherwise thought impossible, there are many harmful and disturbing effects of smartphone dependence. Cell phone addiction, sometimes referred to as problematic mobile phone use, is a behavioral addiction thought to be similar to that of an Internet, gambling, shopping, or video game addiction and leads to severe impairment or distress in one’s life.
- In a study conducted by Baylor University, cell phone addiction was linked to:
- Impulsiveness and materialism.
- A preoccupation with material objects as opposed to intellectual, spiritual, or cultural values.
- The obsessive use of a smartphone has been compared to that of credit card misuse and compulsive buying.
- Cell phones have become a representation of social status and thus, there is pressure to own the newest release and to have all of the best applications.
- People suffering from this condition oftentimes have what has been coined “nomophobia,” or the fear of being without one’s cell phone.
- Problematic cell phone users can develop a social media addiction as well, which has a number of harmful effects on the user, such as:
- Impaired self-esteem.
- Impaired work performance.
- Interpersonal conflicts.
With the widespread accessibility of cell phones at a younger age now, teenagers are especially prone to developing an addiction to their cell phones or social media. Whether you or a loved one suffers from a cell phone addiction, there is hope for recovery.
Below are some more statistics associated with smartphone use:
- 60% of U.S. college students consider themselves to have a cell phone addiction.
- 71% of people sleep with or next to their cell phones.
- 35% of people think of their cell phones when they wake up while only 10% of people think of their significant others.
- 44% of 18-24 year olds have fallen asleep with their phone in their hand.
- 36% of people check their phones constantly, while 54% of young adults are checking constantly.
- Nearly 40% of people never disconnect from cell phones, even while on vacation .
- 44% of Americans say they couldn’t go a day without their mobile devices.
Causes and effects of smartphone and Internet addiction
While you can experience impulse-control problems with a laptop or desktop computer, the size and convenience of smartphones and tablets means that we can take them just about anywhere and gratify our compulsions at any time. In fact, most of us are rarely ever more than five feet from our smartphones. Like the use of drugs and alcohol, they can trigger the release of the brain chemical dopamine and alter your mood. You can also rapidly build up tolerance so that it takes more and more time in front of these screens to derive the same pleasurable reward.
Heavy smartphone use can often be symptomatic of other underlying problems, such as stress, anxiety, depression, or loneliness. At the same time, it can also exacerbate these problems. If you use your smartphone as a “security blanket” to relieve feelings of anxiety, loneliness, or awkwardness in social situations, for example, you’ll succeed only in cutting yourself off further from people around you. Staring at your phone will deny you the face-to-face interactions that can help to meaningfully connect you to others, alleviate anxiety, and boost your mood. In other words, the remedy you’re choosing for your anxiety (engaging with your smartphone), is actually making your anxiety worse.
Smartphone or Internet addiction can also negatively impact your life by:
Increasing loneliness and depression. While it may seem that losing yourself online will temporarily make feelings such as loneliness, depression, and boredom evaporate into thin air, it can actually make you feel even worse. A 2014 study found a correlation between high social media usage and depression and anxiety. Users, especially teens, tend to compare themselves unfavorably with their peers on social media, promoting feelings of loneliness and depression.
Fueling anxiety. One researcher found that the mere presence of a phone in a work place tends to make people more anxious and perform poorly on given tasks. The heavier a person’s phone use, the greater the anxiety they experienced.
Increasing stress. Using a smartphone for work often means work bleeds into your home and personal life. You feel the pressure to always be on, never out of touch from work. This need to continually check and respond to email can contribute to higher stress levels and even burnout.
Exacerbating attention deficit disorders. The constant stream of messages and information from a smartphone can overwhelm the brain and make it impossible to focus attention on any one thing for more than a few minutes without feeling compelled to move on to something else.
Diminishing your ability to concentrate and think deeply or creatively. The persistent buzz, ping or beep of your smartphone can distract you from important tasks, slow your work, and interrupt those quiet moments that are so crucial to creativity and problem solving. Instead of ever being alone with our thoughts, we’re now always online and connected.
Disturbing your sleep. Excessive smartphone use can disrupt your sleep, which can have a serious impact on your overall mental health. It can impact your memory, affect your ability to think clearly, and reduce your cognitive and learning skills.
Encouraging self-absorption. A UK study found that people who spend a lot of time on social media are more likely to display negative personality traits such as narcissism. Snapping endless selfies, posting all your thoughts or details about your life can create an unhealthy self-centeredness, distancing you from real-life relationships and making it harder to cope with stress.
Signs and Symptoms of Cell Phone Addiction
The recent explosion of iPhones, Androids, and other smartphones has provided people with the ability to access the entirety of the Internet on-the-go and at any given moment. 90% of adults in America own a cell phone, and while this may not be a problem for many people, some individuals develop an addiction to their mobile devices.
90% of American adults own a cell phone.
Cell phones are constantly being improved by expanding upon their functionalities, which in turn increases the likelihood of overuse and addiction. According to the PEW Research Center, 67% of smartphone owners have admitted to checking their phone for calls or messages when their phone didn’t vibrate or ring. This is one major sign of cell phone dependence and should serve as a warning to cell phone owners.
There is no specific amount of time spent on your phone, or the frequency you check for updates, or the number of messages you send or receive that indicates an addiction or overuse problem.
Spending a lot of time connected to your phone only becomes a problem when it absorbs so much of your time it causes you to neglect your face-to-face relationships, your work, school, hobbies, or other important things in your life. If you find yourself ignoring friends over lunch to read Facebook updates or compulsively checking your phone in while driving or during school lectures, then it’s time to reassess your smartphone use and strike a healthier balance in your life.
Warning signs of smartphone or Internet overuse include:
Trouble completing tasks at work or home. Do you find laundry piling up and little food in the house for dinner because you’ve been busy chatting online, texting, or playing video games? Perhaps you find yourself working late more often because you can’t complete your work on time.
Isolation from family and friends. Is your social life suffering because of all the time you spend on your phone or other device? If you’re in a meeting or chatting with friends, do you lose track of what’s being said because you’re checking your phone? Have friends and family expressed concern about the amount of time you spend on your phone? Do you feel like no one in your “real” life—even your spouse—understands you like your online friends?
Concealing your smartphone use. Do you sneak off to a quiet place to use your phone? Do you hide your smartphone use or lie to your boss and family about the amount of time you spend online? Do you get irritated or cranky if your online time is interrupted?
Having a “fear of missing out” (or FOMO). Do you hate to feel out of the loop or think you’re missing out on important news or information if you don’t check you phone regularly? Do you need to compulsively check social media because you’re anxious that others are having a better time, or leading a more exciting life than you? Do you get up at night to check your phone?
Feeling of dread, anxiety, or panic if you leave your smartphone at home, the battery runs down or the operating system crashes. Or do you feel phantom vibrations—you think your phone has vibrated but when you check, there are no new messages or updates?
Withdrawal symptoms from smartphone addiction
A common warning sign of smartphone or Internet addiction is experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you try to cut back on your smartphone use. These may include:
- Anger or irritability
- Difficulty concentrating
- Sleep problems
- Craving access to your smartphone or other device
Self-help tips for smartphone addiction
There are a number of steps you can take to get your smartphone and Internet use under control. While you can initiate many of these measures yourself, an addiction is hard to beat on your own, especially when temptation is always within easy reach. It can be all too easy to slip back into old patterns of usage. Look for outside support, whether it’s from family, friends, or a professional therapist.
To help you identify your problem areas, keep a log of when and how much you use your smartphone for non-work or non-essential activities. There are specific apps that can help with this, enabling you to track the time you spend on your phone. Are there times of day that you use your phone more? Are there other things you could be doing instead? The more you understand your smartphone use, the easier it will be to curb your habits and regain control of your time.
Recognize the triggers that make you reach for your phone. Is it when you’re lonely or bored? If you are struggling with depression, stress, or anxiety, for example, your excessive smartphone use might be a way to self-soothe rocky moods. Instead, find healthier and more effective ways of managing your moods, such as practicing relaxation techniques.
Understand the difference between interacting in-person and online. Human beings are social creatures. We’re not meant to be isolated or to rely on technology for human interaction. Socially interacting with another person face-to-face—making eye contact, responding to body language—can make you feel calm, safe, and understood, and quickly put the brakes on stress. Interacting through text, email or messaging bypasses these nonverbal cues so won’t have the same effect on your emotional well-being. Besides, online friends can’t hug you when a crisis hits, visit you when you’re sick, or celebrate a happy occasion with you.
Build your coping skills. Perhaps tweeting, texting or blogging is your way of coping with stress or anger. Or maybe you have trouble relating to others and find it easier to communicate with people online. Building skills in these areas will help you weather the stresses and strains of daily life without relying on your smartphone.
Recognize any underlying problems that may support your compulsive behavior. Have you had problems with alcohol or drugs in the past? Does anything about your smartphone use remind you of how you used to drink or use drugs to numb or distract yourself?
Strengthen your support network. Set aside dedicated time each week for friends and family. If you are shy, there are ways to overcome social awkwardness and make lasting friends without relying on social media or the Internet. To find people with similar interests, try reaching out to colleagues at work, joining a sports team or book club, enrolling in an education class, or volunteering for a good cause. You’ll be able to interact with others like you, let relationships develop naturally, and form friendships that will enhance your life and strengthen your health.
Modify your smartphone use, step-by-step
For most people, getting control over their smartphone and Internet use isn’t a case of quitting cold turkey. Think of it more like going on a diet. Just as you still need to eat, you probably still need to use your phone for work, school, or to stay in touch with friends. Your goal should be to cut back to more healthy levels of use.
- Set goals for when you can use your smartphone. For example, you might schedule use for certain times of day, or you could reward yourself with a certain amount of time on your phone once you’ve completed a homework assignment or finished a chore, for instance.
- Turn off your phone at certain times of the day, such as when you’re driving, in a meeting, at the gym, having dinner, or playing with your kids. Don’t take your phone with you to the bathroom.
- Don’t bring your phone or tablet to bed. The blue light emitted by the screens can disrupt your sleep if used within two hours of bedtime. Turn devices off and leave them in another room overnight to charge. Instead of reading eBooks on your phone or tablet at night, pick up a book. You’ll not only sleep better but research shows you’ll also remember more of what you’ve read.
- Replace your smartphone use with healthier activities. If you are bored and lonely, resisting the urge to use your smartphone can be very difficult. Have a plan for other ways to fill the time, such as meditating, reading a book, or chatting with friends in person.
- Play the “phone stack” game. Spending time with other smartphone addicts? Play the “phone stack” game. When you’re having lunch, dinner, or drinks together, have everyone place their smartphones face down on the table. Even as the phones buzz and beep, no one is allowed to grab their device. If someone can’t resist checking their phone, that person has to pick up the check for everyone.
- Remove social media apps from your phone so you can only check Facebook, Twitter and the like from your computer. And remember: what you see of others on social media is rarely an accurate reflection of their lives—people exaggerate the positive aspects of their lives, brushing over the doubts and disappointments that we all experience. Spending less time comparing yourself unfavorably to these stylized representations can help to boost your mood and sense of self-worth.
- Limit checks. If you compulsively check your phone every few minutes, wean yourself off by limiting your checks to once every 15 minutes. Then once every 30 minutes, then once an hour. If you need help, there are apps that can automatically limit when you’re able to access your phone.
- Curb your fear of missing out. Accept that by limiting your smartphone use, you’re likely going to miss out on certain invitations, breaking news, or new gossip. There is so much information available on the Internet, it’s almost impossible to stay on top of everything, anyway. Accepting this can be liberating and help break your reliance on technology.
Physical Effects of Addiction
Overuse of your cell phone or smartphone can result in a number of different physical problems that may cause permanent damage or be difficult to treat, including:
- Digital eye strain.
- The pain and discomfort associated with viewing a digital screen for over 2 hours.
- Eyes begin to burn and itch.
- Blurred vision.
- Eye fatigue.
- Digital Eye Strain can cause headaches.
- Neck problems.
- Also known as “text neck,” which refers to neck pain resulting from looking down at cell phone or tablet for too long.
- Increased illnesses due to germs.
- 1 in 6 cell phones has fecal matter on it.
- E. coli bacteria, which can cause fever, vomiting, and diarrhea, is found on many phones.
- Phones have been found to be contaminated with MRSA.
- Causes painful abscesses.
- Life-threatening infections in bones, joints, surgical wounds, bloodstream, heart valves, and lungs.
- Car accidents.
- Many people believe that they can multitask and use their phones while driving, but this causes significant impairment and puts the driver and others on the road in danger.
- Research has revealed that texting and driving can be just as dangerous as drinking and driving.
- Male infertility.
- Preliminary studies have revealed that cell phone radiation may decrease sperm count, sperm motility and viability.
Psychological Effects of Cell Phone Addiction
- Sleep disturbances.
- Cell phone addiction has been linked to an increase in sleep disorders and fatigue in users.
- Using your cell phone before bed increases the likelihood of insomnia.
- Bright light may decrease sleep quality.
- Smartphone use could increase amount of time it takes to fall asleep.
- Light emitted from the cell phone may activate the brain.
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
- Relationship problems.
- Offline relationships may suffer as a result of neglect in favor of excessive cell phone and social media use.
- Research has found that college students who use their cell phones the most are more likely to feel anxious during downtime.
Am I Addicted to my Smartphone?
This self-assessment is not meant to officially diagnose you with cell phone addiction. If you are concerned about your problematic behaviors, speak to your doctor or mental health professional about possible treatment.
- Do you find yourself spending more time on your smartphone than you realize?
- Do you find yourself mindlessly passing time on a regular basis by staring at your smartphone even though there might be better or more productive things to do?
- Do you seem to lose track of time when on your cell phone?
- Do you find yourself spending more time texting, tweeting, or emailing as opposed to talking to real-time people?
- Has the amount of time you spend on your cell phone been increasing?
- Do you secretly wish you could be a little less wired or connected to your cell phone?
- Do you sleep with your smartphone on or under your pillow or next to your bed regularly?
- Do you find yourself viewing and answering texts, tweets, and emails at all hours of the day and night, even when it means interrupting other things you are doing?
- Do you text, email, tweet, or surf the internet while driving or doing other similar activities that require your focused attention and concentration?
- Do you feel your use of your cell phone actually decreases your productivity at times?
- Do you feel reluctant to be without your smartphone, even for a short time?
- When you leave the house, you ALWAYS have your smartphone with you and you feel ill-at-ease or uncomfortable when you accidentally leave your smartphone in the car or at home, or you have no service, or it is broken?
- When you eat meals, is your cell phone always part of the table place setting?
- When your phone rings, beeps, buzzes, do you feel an intense urge to check for texts, tweets, or emails, updates, etc.?
- Do you find yourself mindlessly checking your phone many times a day even when you know there is likely nothing new or important to see?
If you or a loved one is concerned about maladaptive behaviors and feelings associated with cell phone addiction, don’t hesitate to call to learn more about the treatment options available to you.
Teen Cell Phone Addiction
Children are learning how to use cell phones and receiving their own at younger ages than ever before. Since teenagers have grown up in an era where cell phone use has been ingrained in them at such a vulnerable age, they are very susceptible to developing an addiction to their smartphones and/or social media.
The human brain isn’t finished developing until around the age of 25 years old.
If a child or teenager suffers from a cell phone addiction, it could have negative implications on brain development.
Research has revealed that there are a few adolescent personality traits associated with Internet addiction, which is closely related to smartphone addiction. These traits include:
- High harm-avoidance.
- These individuals tend to be worrisome, fearful, pessimistic, and shy.
- Altered reward dependence.
- The teen becomes dependent on rewards associated with the internet or cell phone as opposed to natural rewards such as spending time with friends and family, getting good grades, or partaking in hobbies.
- Low self-esteem.
- Low cooperation.
Effects of Teen Smartphone Addiction
Smartphone addiction is closely related to Internet addiction, which is considered an impulse-control addiction. Teens who are addicted to the Internet tend to experience the following:
- Decreased brain connectivity in parts of the brain that regulate emotions, decision-making, and impulse-control.
- An increased likelihood to consume alcohol and use tobacco.
- An increased likelihood to have poor dietary habits.
- Increased levels of social loneliness.
Additionally, addiction to a cell phone could lead to a number of harmful ramifications such as:
- Text neck.
- Neck pain associated with looking down at a cell phone for too long.
- Digital eye strain.
- Burning and itching of eyes and blurred vision associated with looking at a screen for at least 2 hours.
- Car accidents.
- Research has revealed that texting and driving is just as dangerous as drunk driving.
Teens and Social Media Use
Teenagers utilize many different forms of social media–such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter–which allow them to connect with their peers. While these applications provide the user with the ability to connect with others all around the world and access news and information, they also can lead to compulsive and problematic cell phone use, cyberbullying, sexting, and Facebook depression, a term coined by researchers to define the depression associated with excessive social media use.
Research has revealed:
- 92% of teens say that they go online daily, while 24% consider themselves to be online “almost constantly.”
- Over half of teenagers go online many times a day.
- 94% of teenagers access the Internet via their smartphones at least once a day, if not more.
- Facebook is the most-commonly visited social media site for teens (71%), followed by Instagram (52%), then Snapchat (44%).
Does My Teen Have a Cell Phone Addiction?
If you suspect that your teenager is suffering from an addiction to his or her smartphone, there are some signs and symptoms to be on the lookout for in your teen:
- Significant weight change.
- Change in diet.
- Change in sleep patterns.
- Depressed or irritable mood.
- Flat affect or facial expression.
- Little interest in activities they once found enjoyable.
- Difficulties paying attention.
- Withdrawal from social interaction or activities.
- Low self-esteem.
- Neglecting other activities and is constantly on his or her phone.
- Sore neck or headaches.
- Experiencing anxiety when without his or her cell phone or service.
- Experiencing “phantom vibration syndrome,” which means checking his or her phone when it hasn’t vibrated or rung.
- Using his or her cell phone while driving or crossing the street.
If you are concerned about your adolescent’s cell phone addiction, talk to his or her pediatrician about treatment for a smartphone or social media addiction or call the number above to learn more about recovery.
Treatment for Teens
Although cell phone addiction is a relatively new behavioral addiction that isn’t formally in the
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5) yet, there are a few different rehabilitation centers that specialize in treating teen smartphone addiction, such as:
- Restart Center.
- Outpatient teen treatment.
- Individualized assessments.
- Counseling with certified staff.
- Life coaching to address interpersonal and developmental deficits.
- Paradigm Malibu Adolescent Treatment Program.
- Puts limitations on use while in treatment.
- Individual therapy.
- Assesses for co-occurring disorders.
- Family Boot Camp.
- Treats teens with a cell phone addiction and their parents.
- Wilderness expedition.
- Guided by therapists and outdoor specialists.
- Learn to live without technology.
If you suspect that your teen suffers from an addiction to his or her cellphone, it can be battled. Help your teen regain control of his or her life. Don’t hesitate to call to learn about different rehabilitation options available for him or her.
Treatment for Addiction to Smartphones
Self-Treatment for Cell Phone Addiction
Smartphone addiction has been compared to Internet, gambling, and shopping addiction. It is a compulsive behavior that works similarly to substance addiction in the brain.
While cell phone addiction is a fairly new concept and isn’t yet in the DSM-5, there are a few treatment suggestions for those suffering from this condition:
- Make rules for yourself concerning your phone usage.
- Set time periods in which you shouldn’t use your phone (i.e., 9 p.m. to 7 a.m.).
- Designate activities in which your phone is forbidden (e.g., driving, dinner time).
- Schedule break times to access your phone or social media.
- Download an application to help cut down on cell phone use.
- BreakFree and Menthal allow you to track the amount of time you’re spending on your phone and which applications.
- ColdTurkey and SelfControl allow you to block the sites you wish to avoid.
- Relaxation techniques such as mindfulness can help you to cope with your cravings to use your cell phone or access social media.
Smartphone Addiction Therapy
If these changes in habit don’t allow you to cut down on your cell phone use, then you could be suffering from a severe smartphone addiction and treatment is recommended. Treatment options include:
- Individual therapy: The therapist works with you to address any underlying problems or co-occurring mental disorders that could be affecting cell phone use.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy aims to change your maladaptive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors into healthy and positive ones. This method has been proven effective in treating Internet addiction, which is very similar to cell phone addiction.
- Motivational interviewing is centered around you, the client, helps to identify the difference between current state and desired state, and allows you to find motivation to make a positive behavioral change.
- Pharmacotherapy: Although there are no current FDA-approved medications to treat smartphone addiction, when combined with psychotherapy, medications such as antidepressants, antipsychotics, and psychostimulants can help to treat Internet addiction.
Treatment Groups and Centers
- Internet and Tech Addiction Anonymous (ITAA): A 12-step, fellowship program that aims to help those addicted to technology recover from their affliction. Members share their experiences and provide support to one another.
- Restart Center.
- Center for Digital Technology Sustainability.
- 8-12-week program disconnected from digital media (i.e., internet, gaming, cell phone use).
- Helps you build a plan for the future, allows you to work closely with peers, coaches, and counselors to reconnect with life.
- Morningside Recovery.
- Has locations in Texas, California, and Arizona.
- Specializes in dual diagnosis of nomophobia–the fear of being without your mobile device–and another mental illness, such as anxiety.
- Camp Grounded.
- Is similar to a summer camp for adults.
- Consists of a digital detox and interactive activities.
Smartphone addiction doesn’t have to be fought alone. There are a number of treatment options available to you. It’s important that you do appropriate research in order to find out which recovery option best suits your needs.
Call the phone number above to learn more about different cell phone addiction rehabilitation centers.