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Phone Addiction: Effects, Signs, Risk Factors, And Treatment

Last Updated: April 16, 2024

Reviewed by Dr. Norman Chazin

Smartphones are the product leader, and tech gadgets have been steadily ruling the economy over the years. In fact, as of May 2023, 90% of Americans owned a smartphone, making the United States one of the most hyperconnected places worldwide.

While smartphones connect us to family and friends and can even help us during emergencies, they can also lead us to be “chronically online” and develop a smartphone addiction. This condition can hinder work productivity, strain relationships and cause health problems such as insomnia, anxiety and depression.

Continue reading to learn about this addiction, its signs and how to get help to free yourself from your phone.

What is Phone Addiction?

As smartphones are portable devices with computer-like capabilities, users have unlimited access to the internet. This level of accessibility can potentially lead to a smartphone addiction, which is a behavioral addiction consisting of compulsive and excessive use of smartphones.

For most addiction specialists, phone addiction, also known as “nomophobia” (no-mobile-phobia), has similarities to non-chemical addictions such as gambling addiction as exhibits:

  • Tolerance: Needing more extended amount of phone use to achieve the same level of satisfaction
  • Dependence: Psychological and emotional dependence on the device for comfort or entertainment
  • Withdrawal: Feeling irritability, restlessness or mood swings when unable to use the smartphone

Despite the background research, phone addiction is yet to be recognized as an official addiction in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) or the International Classification of Diseases (ICD).

Why Does Smartphone Addiction Occur?

Smartphones and their integrated applications feature numerous elements designed to keep users online 24/7, continuously scrolling and tempted to purchase a new device even if their current one is in perfect condition.

Phone addiction can happen due to the following factors:

Instant Gratification

The brain’s reward system is designed to release dopamine, a feel-good hormone, when we experience pleasurable events such as eating, performing sexual activities, exercising, and, most importantly, during successful social interactions.

The dopamine release users fuel phone addiction after the inherent need of humans for social validation. A like, a comment and a new follower reinforce the “stay online” behavior.

Smartphone Addiction and Constant Connectivity

Everything appears to happen online, from breaking news to the latest fashion trends, placing the internet as the global trendsetter of the modern era. This scenario fosters a fear of missing out (FOMO), pushing users to stay connected.

Social Influence

Peer pressure to use or own a smartphone has become the primary type of peer pressure teenagers experience daily.

For fear of missing out or rejection by social circles, teenagers and adults feel compelled to share updates, photos and interactions for social approval and validation.

User-friendly Smartphone Design

User-friendly designs are the core of digital product development, with the sole purpose of captivating users. While convenient, features like infinite scrolling, push notifications, gamification, personalized recommendations and in-app purchases are key drivers of keeping users online.

Psychological Factors

Underlying mental health disorders may push people to use smartphones as a coping mechanism.

Research suggests smartphone addiction may be driven by a desire to avoid loneliness, particularly in young people with low self-esteem and high social anxiety, leading them to avoid face-to-face interactions and instead seek comfort and satisfaction through excessive smartphone use.

Warning Signs and Symptoms of Phone Addiction

Currently, there is no established criterion for phone addiction.

However, researchers have overlapped signs and symptoms of substance abuse and gambling addiction with those caused by phone addiction, concluding that signs of cell phone addiction can be:

  • Spending significant amounts of time on the phone
  • Anxiety and loneliness when unable to send a message or receive an immediate response
  • Feeling anxious, irritable or restless when unable to use the phone
  • Smartphone addiction prioritizes phone use over work, school or relationships
  • Sensing of having heard a ring or felt a phone vibration when it didn’t
  • Withdrawing from real-life social interactions in favor of virtual connections
  • Constantly thinking about using the phone, even in inappropriate situations
  • Difficulty controlling phone use despite knowing about its negative consequences
  • Using the phone to avoid dealing with emotions, stress or real-life problems
  • Eye strain, headaches or neck pain due to prolonged phone use
  • Postponing eating, sleep, or engaging in physical activity
  • Strained relationships with family, friends or colleagues

Health Risks of Smartphone Addiction

Excessive smartphone usage has been linked to many health problems, including:

  • Higher rates of “De Quervain’s tenosynovitis,” a painful condition that causes swollen tendons in the thumbs
  • Eye strain, headaches, neck and back pain
  • Insomnia or poor sleep quality due to blue light exposure
  • Lack of physical activity leads to weight gain, obesity and related health problems
  • Anxiety, depression, stress, loneliness, low self-esteem
  • Impaired cognitive function, attention span, and focus
  • Strained relationships with family, friends, and partners
  • Increased likelihood of accidents while driving or walking
  • Potential development of dependencies on other substances or activities

Smartphone Addiction Self-Help Tips and Treatment

The first approach to phone addiction is accepting you have an issue going on, and with a series of self-help tips, you may see improvement.

Yet, in some cases, addiction persists despite efforts, and then seeking a professional is the best way to recover.

8 Self-Help Tips for Phone Addiction

  1. Turn off notifications
  2. Set the screen to black and white
  3. Set time limits for phone use
  4. Use apps to track screen time and block access to apps or websites
  5. Prioritize in-person and outdoor activities
  6. Include physical activity. Avoid recording yourself for social media exposure
  7. Connect with friends or support groups for encouragement and accountability
  8. Be mindful of phone usage habits and cultivate awareness of the present moment

Professional Help for Phone Addiction

If self-help tips don’t lessen the addiction, consider seeking therapy or counseling from a licensed mental health professional specializing in addiction treatment. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and mindfulness-based therapies have shown effectiveness in addressing smartphone addiction.

Smartphone Addiction − Key Takeaways

As smartphones continue to play a necessary role in our daily lives, it’s imperative to recognize and address the harmful use patterns that can lead to addiction, particularly among young people.

Individuals can take proactive steps towards healthier smartphone usage habits and overall well-being by raising awareness about the risks associated with phone addiction, promoting self-regulation and allowing access to support systems.

If self-regulation is not helping you, get professional help immediately.

People Also Ask

How do you break a phone habit?

Choosing phone-free times, using apps to track usage, gradually reducing screen time and replacing it with healthier habits like reading or exercising can help break the phone habit. Seek professional help if needed.

What are the effects of overuse of smartphone?

Overuse of smartphones can lead to physical issues like eye strain and poor posture, mental health challenges such as anxiety and depression, social withdrawal, sleep disturbances and decreased productivity due to constant distraction.

Is phone addiction a bad habit?

Yes, phone addiction is a harmful habit. It can impair productivity, harm relationships, lead to physical health problems and negatively impact mental well-being by fostering dependency and withdrawal symptoms when not using the device.

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Page Sources

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Retrieved on April 16, 2024.

Published on: December 8th, 2017

Updated on: April 16th, 2024

María José Petit-Rodríguez

About Author

María José Petit-Rodríguez

Medically Reviewed by

Dr. Norman Chazin

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