Am I Addicted to My Smartphone?

December 10, 2021

3 mins

Dane O'Leary


Although we usually associate addiction with alcohol and drugs, research shows that smartphone addiction is a real addiction that is afflicting a growing number of people. Here's what you should know about smartphone addiction.

For as long as smartphone addiction has been a topic of discussion, would-be smartphone addicts have vehemently denied their affliction:

“I’m not addicted to my smartphone. I’m just ‘dialed in.’”

Yet recent research indicates that smartphone addiction is real and may affect more people than most would think.

Published in Addictive Behaviors in March of 2021, the study set out to examine whether smartphone use has a measurable effect on users’ brains. According to the researchers’ findings, the gray matter that makes up the brain changes significantly with prolonged and habitual smartphone use, seemingly mirroring damage afflicted by drug and alcohol abuse.

Despite these findings, there's a unique stigma surrounding smartphone addiction. Many people simply do not understand the seriousness of the issue. As a result, people rarely address the issue and instead fall deeper into their habits.

Not only are smartphones addictive, avoiding them in our culture has become exceedingly difficult. Since most groups and businesses provide a more convenient version of their services through applications, it becomes more necessary to use a smartphone for daily activities as technology continues to evolve. In fact, many employers even require workers to install smartphone apps to track productivity.

One 2018 study predicted that almost 3 billion people worldwide will be using a smartphone by 2020.

On the other hand, smartphones are excellent tools when used properly. People use smartphones to capture and cherish memories, help us navigate, and improve healthcare and other vital areas. So, where is the balance? How would you know whether you are addicted to this piece of technology, or if you use it to improve your life?

Let’s look to the professionals for our answer.

What Does Smartphone Addiction Look Like?

According to the data, people who are addicted to their smartphones typically exhibit the following behaviors:

Losing sleep at night due to checking every single notification that comes inTurn off your phone at night so you won't hear your notifications
Oblivious to outside stimuli while using a smartphoneTurn off your phone in situations where you want (or need) to pay attention
Unable to leave a smartphone behindKeep smartphone on hand but leave it powered off
Feelings of anxiety occur whenever the smartphone isn't in hand or has been misplacedKeep smartphone on hand but leave it powered off
Constant checking for new texts and notificationsReduce (or even turn off) notifications on your smartphone
Using a smartphone in dangerous situations, including while drivingMake sure your smartphone is not accessible when in these dangerous situations

As with other addictions that aren't to alcohol or drugs, you can typically identify a smartphone addiction when the individual's phone use has negatively impacted his or her life. However, this is less a rule than simply something to watch for.

The Problem With Notifications

For most individuals experiencing smartphone addiction, much of the addiction revolves around notifications. When he or she receives a notification, the individual experiences a surge of dopamine and serotonin in much the same way as if the individual was using drugs or alcohol.

We've even come to recognize that there are certain apps that operate with the smartphone addict in mind. Similarly, some apps even offer you the ability to assign specific sounds to various notifications. 

Apps used for sex hookups, gaming, and gambling exacerbate smartphone addiction. If you're familiar with Pavlov's dog, the idea behind notifications for these types of apps work in a very similar manner; when a notification comes in, the individual is reminded of their past enjoyment of the app, which can trigger what are essentially cravings.

What is Nomophobia?

It is hard to assess how many people are addicted to their phones as there's no clearinghouse for such data. Additionally, it's worth noting that at this time, smartphone addiction is not included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is a text that mental health professionals use to diagnose disorders.

Even so, we can surmise that an alarming number of people suffer from “nomophobia,” a street term for people who freak out when they think they’ve lost their phone. We're even seeing that researchers have begun to study the phenomenon, including a 2019 study that shows about a quarter of college students suffer from severe nomophobia.

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