Smart Phone Addiction: Signs, Symptoms & Treatment
More people than ever currently suffer from a smart phone addiction. In fact, a staggering 6.3% of general population globally have a dependence to their smart phones.
It is difficult to think of the world without smart phones now. Smart phones help us in so many ways. They allow us to stay connected with friends, family and work colleagues. They help us to find directions, search for information on the internet, let us play games, watch movies and much more. For many, smart phones have brought a new dimension of communication and access to the world in general.
But while smart phones help many of us, others have become hooked. This article explores how smart phones have developed over the past two decades, what smart phone addiction is, and just why some people can't put them down. We also look at what to do if you have an addiction to your smart phone.
What is a smart phone addiction?
Smart phone addiction is a real disorder. It can be defined as a compulsive and excessive use of a smart phone, one that leads to significant impairment in daily life.
While most of us can control our use of smart phones, some people develop a very unhealthy dependence on them. For some people, this can lead to problems in their personal relationships and social lives, as well as impacting negatively on their work or studies. In severe cases, it can lead to financial problems and additional mental health disorders.
Signs you have a smart phone addiction
Do you believe that you may have a smart phone addiction? Read through the following list. If you relate to one or more on this list, you have may have a problem with your smart phone use. The more signs of smart phone addiction that you identify with, the more severe your disorder.
15 Signs of smart phone addiction:
1. You can't go more than an 15 to 30 minutes regularly without checking your phone (when awake)
2. You ensure you always have your phone with you and may refuse to go places where you cannot connect to WIFI
3. You feel anxious, irritable or restless when you can't use your phone
4. You use your phone for everything, even things that could be done offline
6. You've missed important events or appointments because you were too busy on your phone
7. You have been in an accident because you were distracted by your smart phone
8. You spend more money on phone apps and accessories than you'd like to admit
9. You get angry or frustrated when someone tries to take your phone away from you, or, even merely suggests it
10. You can't imagine living without your smart phone
11. Family members, partners and friends complain you are always on your phone and not ‘present’
12. You turn to your phone as a way of coping with feeling uneasy or experiencing distressing emotions
13. You lose track of time when on your smart phone, spending hours on it regularly
14. You feel compelled to check every notification that comes through on your smart phone
15 You have tried to reduce the amount of time you spend on your smart phone but have not succeeded
Why people in addiction recovery are prone to smart phone addiction
People in addiction recovery are especially vulnerable to smart phone addiction. When someone gets clean, it is common for them to seek out something else to numb the pain that they have: sex, eating, relationships and gambling are just some of the ways that newly sober and not so newly sober people use to distract themselves from challenging emotions.
Smart phones can be just one more way of avoiding feelings. It is not just people in recovery that do this. There are plenty of people in all walks of life who consciously or (and this is more common) unconsciously use their phones in this way.
The brain and smart phone addiction
Smart phone addiction can be explained in part by what is happening in the brain. When we use smart phones, we get a hit of dopamine. This is mother nature's feel-good chemical that is released as a reward when we do something pleasurable. It makes us feel happy and content.
However, over time, our brains become used to this dopamine hit. We need to use our smart phones more and more to get the same feeling. This can lead to compulsive behaviours and addiction.
Smart phone addiction and personal relationships
Smart phone addiction can have a negative impact on personal relationships. This is because people who are addicted to their smart phones often put them ahead of everything else in their lives. They may spend more time on their phone than they do talking to their partner or spending time with their family. This can lead to arguments and conflict.
People who are addicted to their smart phones may even start to withdraw from social activities. They may stop going out with friends or taking part in hobbies. At this point, smart phone addiction is severely affecting these peoples lives. They start to feel anxious, depressed and isolated as their addiction takes a real grip.
Smart phone addiction and social skills
Smart phone addiction can also impact negatively on social skills, as people who are addicted to their phones find it difficult to communicate with others without them. They may have trouble carrying on a conversation or making eye contact. This can make it difficult to form and maintain relationships.
This is especially true of teenagers who come to rely on their smart phones heavily, whilst their brain and social skills are still developing. This can have devastating effects on their ability to communicate effectively and socialise with others.
Social media addiction
Social media offers us the promise of increased connectedness with people around the world. While using social media for its intended functions can be useful for staying in contact with people, many people now use social media compulsively to distract themselves from difficult thoughts and feelings. This leads people to scroll across social media mindlessly whenever they have a moment of free time.
This practice is far from benign, as many of the images that these people see are carefully crafted by other social media users to help them appear to have fantastic lives. It has the knock-on effect of making the viewer of these images feel worse about themselves.
Dealing with an addiction of this kind involves finding out the thoughts and feelings that you were trying to block out and addressing them. It also involves seeing the real picture, in that others lives are only depicted in tiny snapshots that have no real bearing on their actual lives. Those with a social media addiction as advised to stay off social media, as it provokes feelings of powerlessness, hopelessness, obsessiveness and low self-worth.
Social media addiction and self esteem
Many people use social media to boost their own self-esteem. Presenting an image to others of having a flawless life that is worthy of envy is alluring to some. This may even help them feel better about themselves for a short period of time. However, this becomes just another addiction, where they become reliant on external sources of validation for their self-worth.
The root to solving a social media addiction caused by low self-esteem is two pronged:
Firstly, the more a person focuses on increasing the true quality of their own life and in giving to others, the less important social media will become. For those that use social media obsessively and compulsively, this may well mean taking a complete break from social media whilst they focus on building their own self-worth.
Taking a break from social media, if you use it compulsively, will be extremely uncomfortable at first. However, within a relatively short space of time you will find your quality of life increases providing you do esteem-able things.
Secondly, by way of addressing a social media addiction caused by low self-esteem is to practice self-love. Once you have learnt to love yourself, the shallow affection of others will not be so important. To do this, start by forgiving yourself for times in the past when you were acting in a way you wish you hadn't.
You can also try practising metta meditation (loving kindness meditation). Finally, the value of self-enquiry and healing, either through attending a support group or with the help of counselling should not be overlooked. These will provide you with the support and tools you need to truly break free from needing external validation.
Gambling with smart phones
Smart phones present a risk for people with gambling issues. Whereas in previous generations, gamblers would have to go to a bookmakers or casino so that they could gave a bet, todays gamblers can sit at home with their smart phones and have direct access to a infinite number of gambling apps.
Smart phone gambling apps range from gaming apps that include a gambling element, to fully-fledged casino apps, where users can play a wide variety of different casino games. These apps are all set up in a way that enhances their addictiveness.
People can and do lose large amounts of money with these apps. As with gambling in other ways, some gamblers believe that they have developed a system where they cannot lose. This is not possible, as companies that make money from gambling stay in business because they always have the edge. The more that you gamble with these apps, the more you are likely to lose.
Apps such as these present additional problems for people with gambling problems. While previously someone may have been able to avoid attending casinos or bookmakers, or in some cases could have themselves banned from places where they could gamble, this is more difficult with smart phone gambling. Gamblers who would like to ban themselves must ban themselves from every app that involves gambling individually.
The other alternative is not having a smart phone. While this will mean you will have to return to old methods of communication such as texting and calling, it will effectively remove the temptation that these smart phone apps present.
Gaming and smart phones
In the past, gamers played games using either a PC or a console. Now, smart phones are powerful enough to enable users to play many of their favourite games. This is challenging for people who obsessively game, for similar reasons as with gambling.
Gaming addiction is a real disorder with the same devastating consequences as with any other addiction. It can rob a person of their social skills, their ability to be successful in life and form real and healthy relationships with others.
How to treat smart phone addiction
If you think you may have a smart phone addiction, there are some things you can do to help yourself.
Acknowledge you have a problem
It may be a cliche, but it is certainly true. Admitting you have a problem with smart phone addiction is the first step to overcoming it.
Set boundaries on smart phone usage
After admitting you have a problem, you should set boundaries around your smart phone use. This may mean only using your phone for certain activities, such as work or communication with family and friends. It may also mean setting time limits on your phone use.
There are apps that can help you with this. Some apps help you keep track of how long you are using different apps for by displaying the amount of time you have used them for. You may be surprised that this time is longer than you had thought.
Other apps go a step further, and stop you from using certain apps when you have gone over a time limit that you choose. Of course, you should not rely on these apps, as in practice it is easy to get around these limits once you have set them.
If you suffer from a severe smart phone addiction, you will struggle to adhere to any self imposed limits. In cases such as this, the only answer is not to have access to a smart phone.
Learn to cope with negative emotions
If you can sit with your negative emotions, there is no need to distract yourself with smart phone usage. Addressing this might involve writing a diary or speaking with trusted friends about how you feel.
You can also try sitting in meditation and let the feelings wash over you. Sometimes, just feeling the emotion can help to release it.
For some, there may be a need to go further and address and heal the root problems, either through joining a recovery support programme or by engaging in therapy.
Get new hobbies
If you are sitting around the house all day, you will be more likely to pick up your phone when you are bored. Engaging in interesting activities will help you to reduce the amount of time you spend on your phone.
You may decide to join a gym, further education or a something that holds your interest. This will have the added benefit of boosting your self esteem as you reap the benefits from engaging in a real activity you enjoy.
Stay connected with people
Sometimes people use their phone because they feel lonely. They might also use it to feel a sense of connectedness, by using social media apps. The reality is that excessive smart phone usage is likely to make you feel more disconnected than ever.
The best cure for loneliness is to sit down and have a face to face conversation with someone that you trust. Try it, it might make you feel better. If there is no one in your life that you wish to connect with, new hobbies can be a great way of making new friends with a common interest.
Get professional help
If you try the above and your phone usage is still high, it might be time to get professional help.
Seeing a counsellor can help you get to the root of why you are compulsively using your phone. Find one in your local area, who is BACP registered, and who has experience on treating addictions like this.
You can also consider attending a rehab centre for your smart phone addiction. While most people believe that rehab is only for substance abuse disorders, this is not the case. If you have the time and money to go to rehab for smart phone addiction, this is likely to be a very effective treatment option.
Ask for help
If you are struggling with smart phone addiction, it is important to seek help. If you do not get help, it may lead to problems in your personal relationships, social life, work, or studies. It can also lead to mental health and financial problems. If you are ready to seek help, there are resources available to you.
Engaging with Recoverlution you can start a circle with like minded others. You can also apply a SMART Recovery programme or 12 step programme to your own individual addiction. The principles of treatment are the same, regardless of the addiction involved.
We are here to support you in a happy and healthy recovery.
- Cell phone addiction and psychological and physiological health in adolescents - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6449671/
- Dopamine, smart phones and you: A battle for your time - https://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2018/dopamine-smartphones-battle-time/