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Are You Addicted to Your Smart Phone?

You have likely heard people joke about being addicted to their Smart phones. It is so easy to have a quick two minute “brain break” session slide into an hour of mindless scrolling. Yes, Smart phones provide convenience and a wealth of information at the touch of a finger; however, there is something behind those comments about being “smart phone addicted.” Smart phones and related technology, like social media and apps, may not give you the same type of fulfillment that face to face human/emotional connection does, but they give you something you crave.  

We are not denying that you can forge an intimate relationship with someone via your Smart phone/Internet technology, otherwise dating apps wouldn’t exist. However, this blog is focused on the compulsion, or nearly irresistible urge to do something, like use your Smart phone. 

What are people most often driven to do on their smart phones and devices?

  • Checking to see who has viewed your social media stories 
  • Checking up on other people 
  • Looking at other people’s pictures and comparing yourself to them 
  • Playing a game 
  • And many others 

So why are we drawn to these types of things?

Because it feels good!

At least… at first

What Does It Mean To Be Addicted? 

There is a distinct difference between just really liking something and being addicted to it.

Generally, the difference between liking and being addicted to something are :

  • whether the substance or behavior causes negative consequences in your life,  
  • if there’s a strong urge or compulsion to do it,  
  • if you feel a loss of control over using the substance or doing the behavior, and  
  • if there is tolerance, withdrawal, and anxiety associated with it.  

Having a “full blown” addiction takes up a substantial amount of your headspace, mental energy, and time throughout your day. Think of it as an obsession.  

Get ready for some science!  

You may not realize that there are actually tolerance and withdrawal symptoms for behavioral addictions, meaning that if you are addicted to a behavior, like using your Smart phone, your brain pathways are affected in similar ways to if you were addicted to a substance. For instance, you may experience great anxiety if you lose your phone, or can’t “check it” during certain periods of the day. The pleasure pathway, related to the limbic system in the brain, is influenced for those who experience addiction. This part of the brain is responsible for things like motivation, memory, and emotions.  

This is why if you become truly addicted to something, it becomes difficult to stop, because your brain is wired to seek out that pleasurable response that the substance or behavior gives you, like getting 500 likes on an Instagram photo. Nothing like a hit of dopamine! (not dope). Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is part of the pleasure response system and it especially gets released when social interaction is involved (like using social media). Smart Phones provide easy access to a dopamine hit… or a temporary “feel good” state.  

So What Does Smart Phone Addiction Look Like? 

Not being present when with other people (on the phone) 

Texting/checking while driving  

Experiencing anxiety/emotional pain without the phone behaviors 

While doing other things, thinking about using the phone (what you might post/what other people are doing) 

Extreme FOMO, or fear of missing out on what other people are doing, not being up-to-date with social media 

Feeling a loss of control, like you can’t stop the behavior 

Irritability when others point out your phone usage 

Shame/guilt/remorse surrounding the behavior  

Remember, just because you see someone annoyingly posing for selfies all the time, or texting others while they’re hanging out with you, doesn’t necessarily mean they are addicted. Yes, addiction often causes distress to the people around the addict as well, but problematic use can too. A Smart-phone-distracted-friend may warrant a frank conversation about how that makes you feel (ignored, rejected, sad, etc). The difference between problematic behavior and an addiction is that while problematic behavior may need to be addressed, it is not overtaking a person’s life, meaning they are still able to function relatively well.  

What Are The Consequences?  

On the surface, it may seem like: what’s the big deal? Everyone uses Smart phones now. It’s just how things are. Smart phones may not be going away, but our wellness may be diminishing. Smart phone use is actually linked to depression and suicide risk in teens. It also affects smaller children who are learning emotional regulation, as Smart phones can provide instant gratification and not force them to develop the skills for patience and perseverence that they need. Because Smart phones are relatively new, research is still catching up, but what is available suggests that it can absolutely negatively affect the developing brain 

What Can I Do?  

If you’re a parent, delaying getting your child a phone or limiting Smart phone/tablet time may be a good start as well as monitoring content. If you are struggling with Smart phone use yourself, it may seem to be impossible to limit your use, but there is hope. Even people who have full blown addictions can recover and literally rewire their brain to no longer obsess about a substance or behavior. Change is possible, whether you have an addiction to your Smart phone or you exhibit problematic use.   

One question you might want to start to ask yourself is, what are the circumstances surrounding when I reach for my phone? Am I bored? Lonely? What do I get out of it and how do I feel afterward? The iPhone lets you set and see screen time use, try turning it on and use your phone ‘as normal’ for a week and see hardcore numbers about your phone usage. 

Is Your Phone Use high? 

You might want to start replacement behaviors, such as listening to a song INSTEAD of checking Instagram, or simply tracking all of the times you think to check your phone during the day and have to choose not to. That number might be telling and really good information for your therapist, should you choose to seek counseling. Or even give you a baseline to work with and see how you can ‘beat’ it by lowering usage yourself over time. Finding healthier coping strategies is also helpful. Are you looking to social media to get some social needs met? Can you get them fulfilled elsewhere that is much more sustainable and tangible?  

You can start taking the steps to regain control over yourself and your time through counseling. Call Angelus at 724-654-9555 to set up an appointment today.  Or reach out through our website.