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Cell Phone Addiction: Meaning, Symptoms, Causes, Effects, and Treatment

While it is true that the advancement of technology has led to many conveniences in our world, it has also brought other issues to us. Cell phone addiction is one of the effects on how technology has impacted people’s lives.

With the recent explosion of Androids, iPhones, and other similar smart devices like the tablets, has caused the cell phone addiction issue rise to an alarming rate.

According to research done by the Mobile Technology Fact Sheet, more than 90% of the adults in the United States own a cell phone. Owning a cell phone is not something bad, however, some individuals, in fact, the majority of the individuals who use those devices developed what we called the ‘cell phone addiction’ syndrome, an impulsivity disorder like addiction to gambling and gaming.

Today, the functionality of cell phones has increased drastically and these technological devices are quickly becoming part of our everyday lifestyle. Do you know that as high as 67% of smartphone users said that they check their phones for calls, instant messages, or updates when even their phones did not ring? This study was carried out by PEW Research Center and it is a clear sign in telling us that something is not right with our behavioral attachment to cell phones.

Meaning

Since the introduction of cell phones to the world, the anomalous use of smart phones has been called into question whether its usage could lead to addiction. This problem is often identified as a behavioral addiction just like addictions to food, shopping, gambling, video games, work, and the internet.

It is worth to note that behavioral addiction is different from substance addiction like drugs and alcohol. For substance addiction issue, there are clear changes in the addicts’ daily lifestyle and interferences. On the other, behavioral addiction like the addiction to cell phone shows no clear or direct signs of any interference to the addicts’ lifestyle.

To put it in a simple term, cell phone addiction can be referred to as a dependence syndrome. This term is used by WHO in 1964 and is categorized either as a substance abuse or a behavioral addiction. And cell phone addiction falls into this category.

It is easy to get access to cell phones at a younger age these days. Teenagers are getting exposed and developed addiction to their phones. Apart from that, the problem can also come from non-stop checking updates from social media, heavy gaming and other extensions of the functionality of smartphones.

Do you also know that cell phone has become a representation of social status these days? People who use a certain brand or latest model tend to feel that proud or ‘up-to-date’. This will indirectly create the pressure to own the latest release and to download all of the popular applications.

If you are still not convinced that cell phone addiction is as real and is at an alarming rate, consider these statistics:

  • 71% of people sleep with their cell phones by their side.
  • There are 35% of people think of their cell phones the moment they wake up and only about 10% of people think of their significant others.
  • As high as 44% of 18-24 year-olds fall asleep with their phones still in their hands.
  • Almost 40% of cell phone users never disconnect themselves from their phones, even when they are on vacation.
  • And over 44% of Americans say that they cannot go on a day without their smartphones with them.

Symptoms

Almost everyone in the world today owned a cell phone, so how can you tell if someone is suffering the cell phone addiction syndrome from someone who is not?

Well, like most illnesses and diseases, you can tell if someone is suffering the syndrome from symptoms showed. And there are plenty of symptoms to notice, but James Robert, the professor from Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business has identified that almost every phone addict shows these six signs: tolerance, conflict, withdrawal, euphoria, relapse, and salience.

Now, below are the six symptoms of a smartphone addict, see if you can tell if someone or maybe you are suffering from this habitual problem.

1. Reaching out to your cell phone the first thing right after awake

When your phone becomes one of the most important parts of your life, you should keep an eye on your usage of the phone. This is what James Robert refers to as salient.

Before the invention of the cell phone, most people do not reach out to this device the first thing they wake up in the morning. They simply reach out to their alarm clock or just wake up.

Things are different today. Our smartphone has replaced our alarm clock. We don’t buy and use alarm clocks anymore, even if we do use a clock, it will be just for decoration purposes or to easily tell time, not the alarm.

If the first thing you get up is to think about your phone and you wanted to check updates to see if someone has texted you or updates from social media, you have fulfilled the first symptom of being a cell phone addict.

2. Using your phone whenever you are bored or have nothing to do

This is often explained as the euphoria experience. You feel excited and joyful whenever you hear the notification from your phone. This experience actually gives you a temporary ‘high’ feeling and enjoyment.

Whenever you are bored and have nothing to do, you look forward to your phone and hope that someone gives you a ring or sends you a text. Or maybe someone updates his or her social status and you feel excited to check it out.

Another clearer sign to notice is if you will put off everything at your hand right now and turn your focus into your phone. If someone pings you, do you immediately stop whatever you are doing and feel excited to check out the notification?

3. Becomes anxious when your cell phone is not out of sight

A cell phone addict will feel stress, tension, agitated, restlessness, and anxious whenever his phone is out of his sight or reach.

This is known as the withdrawal symptom. Do you know that as high as 68% of adults feel anxious and uncomfortable whenever their phone is separated from them? Do you feel the same?

Whenever your phone is not with you and you feel uneasy, it will be a clear sign that you may be addicted to your phone. It does not matter for how long the phone is separated from the addict, even for the slightest moment, the addict will feel uncomfortable without the presence of his phone.

4. Other people complain about your cell phone use

This is commonly known as conflict. Did someone ever complain about you using too much of your phone? You can always hear these conflicts and complaints from the people around a cell phone addict.

If your children, your spouse, your colleagues, friends, and boss complain that you are spending too much attention on your phone, you should keep an eye on your addiction.

Furthermore, a real addict will often give priority to his or her phone. Whenever they receive any notification, they will check their phones, even at work, vacation or social engagement time.

The next round if you are expecting an important call from someone, you can and should inform and let others know about it up front.

5. Spending more time into using your cell phone

James Robert refers to this phenomenon as tolerance. It is where the person who suffers the addiction spending more and more time on their phone.

Regardless of whether it is checking social media, watching videos from YouTube or checking any new buzz from your phone, you should keep an eye on your average time spend on your phone.

A cell phone addict will spend a colossal amount of time with their phone. It is just like addiction to alcohol, the drinker will find it difficult to stop drinking and they will continue to drink more and more.

In fact, technology has revolutionized our culture and lifestyle. There are more and more things you can accomplish from a push of your smartphone nowadays and this has caused people to spend more time on their phones with all kinds of Apps.

6. Fail to cut down the cell phone use

Finally, this is known as relapse and it happens when you try to cut down your time using your phone, but fail to do it.

Relapse will occur whenever you find that there is an urge to reach out for your phone stronger than your willpower. Even if you intentionally want to cut down the usage of your phone, but the body and your mind will resist.

When a cell phone addict suffers a relapse and did nothing about it, this will continue and eventually, it will become a habit that is strongly ingrained in the addict’s subconscious mind. By that time, it will be difficult to get rid of the addiction and requires a tremendous effort to do so.

Causes

So what are the causes that make people so addicted to their cell phone? This happens not only to the teenagers, but adults have also suffered serious addiction to their smartphones.

Before you learn and get to know about cell phone addiction and why it happens, you must understand the term, ‘dopamine’. Dopamine is often referred to as the ‘feel good chemical’ that released by our brain to make us feel good, happy, and a surge of ‘high’.

When you exercise, when you accomplished your work, you will feel good, satisfied and fulfilled. This is the phenomenon where dopamine is at work. Dopamine plays a critical role in both our mental and physical functions in forming our reward seeking behavior.

Dopamine is there to drive and motivate you to take action and to seek pleasure such as food, sex, alcohol and some cases, the internet. Whenever you first experience something new, you will anticipate the rise of dopamine level inside your brain. Just like whenever you think about going to travel to a country that you have never been before, you will instantly feel the excitement and joy.

Actually, dopamine is good because it gives us the drive to accomplish and to take action on what we desire. Without dopamine, perhaps, you will just feel lazy and lie on your sofa and do nothing.

So what does this has to do with cell phone addiction? Everything.

According to Nir & Far, smartphones able to give us three types of rewards that will increase our dopamine level.

1. The first type of reward is called reward of the hunt.

This is where we are expecting new experiences and information whenever we check our phones. Ever wonder why people are so addicted to their phone? This is simply because they are expecting to see something new through their phones.

Status updates from their friends, new Apps, fresh messages, and everything that is fresh can spark our dopamine level.

2. The second type of reward is known as the reward of self.

This is where people are looking to get validation and agreement from other people.

We have to admit it, humans are creatures where we are always seeking approval and validation. We want others to agree with us and like. Thus, whenever you posted a photo to your social media account, you will want to check it constantly to see if people comment or like your photo.

Every time someone likes your photo or whatever you share in the social media, it makes you feel good, hence, the increase of dopamine level. Eventually, your brain will accept the act of consistently checking your phone and it becomes habitual.

Just like if you are a blogger and you posted an article on your blog. People praise your work and it gets a lot of shares and likes. This will make you feel pleasurable and wanted to write more.

You have to understand that a phone is not addictive by itself without the presence of internet, social media, games, etc. Your phone only becomes addictive when these other functions are available at your fingertips.

3. The third type of reward is the reward of the tribe.

As human beings, we resist being alone and we wanted to be part of a bigger family. Guess what, social media and our phone give us this connection with other people that we crave. We wanted to feel like we belong to a larger group and always being accepted. This is why social media has skyrocketed and used by millions.

Whenever you are accepted into a group, you feel excited for what’s coming. Whenever other people like your status, comment and agree with what you have to say in social media, you feel great and want more.

How The Addictive Habit Forms?

Whenever your phone buzz and notify you to check it out, if you do it and you get rewarded by doing so, this action will create a new neural pathway in your brain.

And if you repeat this consistently, day in and day out, every time your phone buzzes, you check it out and you feel good, it will become your habit.

It is just like how you brush your teeth every morning after you wake up. Do you notice that it becomes your habit and you get so used to it that you can do it without thinking about it?

Now, what happens if you change a new toothbrush? At first, you will feel a little awkward as the feeling is different. However, if you continue using the new toothbrush every day in the same manner and at the same time, the awkward feeling will be gone.

You will get used to it and become comfortable with it once more. The same goes with your phone. When you change your cell phone or the notification tone, you will feel odd at first, but eventually, you will get used to it.

This explains the causes of how cell phone addiction is formed. You will develop the habit of checking your phone event when it is not ringing.

Effects

The addiction to a smartphone can become a serious problem and causes many effects in both your personal and professional life. This behavioral addiction can be dangerous too.

Do you know that the number of accidents caused by using phone has increased dramatically? We have seen news saying that people involved in car accidents because they are checking out their phones or some even recording live broadcast while driving. This reckless behavior has caused life and became a serious issue that the society must learn to handle.

Study has shown that texting or playing phones have killed 6,000 people each year, more than sharks do.

Besides that, here are some other effects of cell phone addictions can cause to you, the people around you and your life.

1. Back and Neck Problem

This is a common issue that all phone addicts must deal with. Most people hunched when they are using their phones. They will look down at their phone for a long period and this actually causes them to have back and neck pain issue.

When you hunch or bend your neck to look down at your phone for a few hours a day, and if you do this for years, you will put serious pressure on your backbone and your neck.

According to studies, as high as 45% of the youngster from age 16 to 24 these days suffer back pain due to the heavy usage of their smartphones. Besides that, the constant texting and swiping phones can make your fingers stiff and in a bad shape too.

2. Anxiety, Stress, and Depression

Another common effect that we often heard from experts is the emotional and mental health problems. When you spend too much time on your phone, you neglect other parts of your life. Your life will be out of balance. Staring too much at the screen will make you feel anxious and stress.

Northwestern University concluded that the more time you spend on playing your phone, the more likely you will feel depressed.

Besides, the immediate response to attend to the phone when it buzzes has caused serious stress issue.

Imagine you are busying studying or cooking, suddenly someone called and you have to stop everything to attend to your phone. You try to continue after that, but your phone buzzes again with an instant message. You get distracted once more and this will cause stress if it continues every day.

3. Health Issue

The more time you spend using your smartphone, the less time you will have to exercise or even walk around. Many people found that they are lost in the virtual space their smartphone provides, and only to return to the reality after hours later.

Cell phone usage has greatly replaced many of our physical activity in life. A survey conducted to a group of students and found that those who spend long hours using their phones were less fit than the other average that spent less time on their phone.

4. Sleep Deprivation and Disruption

This is another common effect of cell phone addiction that everyone can relate.

First, if you sleep with or around your phone, the bright light emitted from your device will disrupt your sleep. The bright light emission from your phone will push back your sleep time and affect melatonin, the hormone that helps your sleep timing.

Next, if you are addicted to your phone and you bring it to sleep with you, you will somehow use it before you sleep and the first thing when you wake up. This simply means that you may unconsciously end up spending more time playing your phones than sleeping.

When you go to bed without your phone, you will just lie on your bed and sleep. Now, with your phone with you, you may check updates from social media before you sleep, causing you to suffer sleep deprivation.

5. Social Effects

From the outside, our phones are meant to connect us, but on the inside, if you are addicted to your phone and that is what you do all the time, you will neglect your social life and this will cause serious social effects in you.

You will become more isolated, less connected physically and this may also cause damage to your relationships to the people around you. The quality of your relationship may suffer because you spend too much time playing your phone rather than building a real connection with the ones around you.

6. Become Less Productive

Do you know why accidents can happen when you are using your phone while driving? This is because our brains are not built to multitask. We are bad at multitasking and when we try to diverge our attention, we tend to lose our focus and become less productive.

This is especially true in the working world. Studies and research have proven that the presence of cell phone has made people become less productive.

Your phone will distract you from your work. It takes your attention away and when you try to get back to your work, you have to find your focus again.

7. Eyesight and Hearing Problems

As what has been mentioned above, the blue light emission from your phone can damage your retina. It can cause muscular degeneration and loss of vision.

Try to focus and look at the screen of your phone for a long time, you will feel stress and cause discomfort to your eyes.

If you constantly plug a headphone to your ears while using your phone, it may bring up some hearing issue. The National Institute of Deafness showed that about 26 million Americans are having a problem with noise-induced hearing loss, and one of such noises is from your headphones.

Treatment

Many of us cannot get rid of our cell phones because they have become part of our lives. The smartphone is a necessity these days. People cannot live without them.

And it is true that your phones have brought you many conveniences at work and in life, but that does not mean that you must allow your phone to take control of your life or become addicted to it.

Here are some practical and useful strategies to overcome cell phone addiction.

1. Create an unplugged zone

This is where you either turn off your phone or you simply disconnect your phone from yourself or disconnect it from the internet.

Your phone will only buzz you and require your attention when it is on. So turn it off. Discipline yourself and commit to creating an unplugged zone in your everyday life.

For example, you can turn off your phone, turn it to silent mode or disconnect it from the internet after 8 pm. You want to create a phone-free zone so that you can spend quality time with your family or with yourself.

When you create your unplugged zone, you also limit yourself on the usage of your phone. You cannot check on social media if your phone is without the internet.

2. Remove all unnecessary Apps

If you are spending too much time playing games on your phone, the best way to overcome this problem is to get rid of all the Apps that are eating up a huge chunk of your time.

Of course, you have to commit to doing so and decide once and for all that you are going to delete it. Once those Apps are not there anymore, you can’t spend your time there, rather, use those times for other more productive things in your life.

3. Prohibit the usage of phones

If you have children, prohibit the use of smartphones at dinner and other important occasions. You have to teach your children that family time is more important than the phones. And don’t forget that this rule applies to adults too, including you. Set a good example for your children. Start by not using the phone during mealtime yourself.

4. Set customer notifications

People will definitely check their phones when they receive notification, thus, the best way to overcome this is by setting custom notifications.

You do not want unnecessary Apps to notify you of updates or any chat groups that are not important to distract you from your more important work. So set custom notification to these Apps or chat groups.

If you are on a big chat group that is active, you will often receive notification and this can be very disturbing and cause stress. This is especially true if you happen to be in many groups.

5. Schedule time to reply messages and emails

Not everyone can do this because the temptation to check the messages and emails is just too powerful. However, if you serious about being productive and want to focus on your work, you should discipline yourself to do this.

You don’t have to reply every message that comes in instantly. Schedule your time to reply those messages and emails in batches. This will save you time and put you in a more productive workday.

6. The first and last 60 minutes of your day

Experts have shown that the first 60 minutes when you wake up and the last 60 minutes before you fall asleep play an important role in your life.

So don’t spend time playing your phone during these hours. Instead, use it for other useful and constructive activities such as reading books, family time, planning, or meditation.

More importantly, never bring your phone to sleep with you. If possible distance yourself from your phone and never bring it to your bedroom. Use an alarm clock instead of using your phone as a clock.

7. Get an alternative cheaper phone

While it is true that the latest and most powerful brands and models of smartphones are expensive, but there are also brands and models created to target the lower end of the market.

Get an alternative cheaper phone. Use that cheaper phone with less functionality whenever possible. As for your better phone that has more functionality, use it only for business and work.

This means that you will have two phones, one smartphone for work and business, and another normal or conventional phone for your personal life.

When you get back home from work, on the weekend and during vacation, turn off your work phone and only use your normal phone as a mean of contact. Better yet, leave your work phone in the office and do not bring it back home.

This way, you will never be able to fall victim as a cell phone addict because you don’t have a chance to use your work phone for games, social media and other unnecessary activities.

Make sure you only use your ‘home phone’ for calls and replying important messages, not for working purposes. And never to install any unproductive App.

8. Assign a special ‘dock’ for your phone in the bedroom

Most people insist on using their phone as an alarm clock and they will somehow bring their phones into the bedroom with them.

If this is what you must do, assign a special location that is far away from your bed for your phone. Every night when you get into your bedroom with your phone, put your phone in a tray or get a handphone dock.

This will make sure that your cell phone is not in close proximity to you when you sleep. Do a quick Google search and you will discover plenty of evidence showing you that sleeping close to your phone is a bad idea.

Experts have shown that if your phone is near to you during your sleep, you can experience nightmares, inability to sleep, disturbance, and waking up several times.

9. Stop using smartphone for entertainment

Latest electronic devices such as smartphones and tablets have drastically replaced the conventional TVs and computers for entertainment because these devices are easily accessible and they are quick to load.

With a smartphone, you can watch a movie, play games, listen to your favorite songs and chit chatting through messenger. Conversely, you can only use a conventional TV to watch movies or drama, it is less convenient.

It is true that the smart devices are convenient and easy to use, but if you want to break the habit of cell phone addiction, stop using your smartphone to play games or watch YouTube. Instead, stick to the traditional way, watch a TV and use a computer to play games.

Why is that so? The answer is simple, you want to make less convenient to have fun with your smartphone so that you can break the bad habit of using your phone all the time.

10. Give yourself empowering reasons

Out of all the ten suggested treatments here, this is the most important of all. Without having a good reason why you want to stop your addiction toward cell phone, you will never do anything and change anything.

Human beings are motivated by reasons and purposes. We do things because we have a reason to do it. In the professional world, successful people are able to produce extraordinary results because they give themselves stronger reasons to work on their dreams.

On the other hand, unsuccessful people do not have strong reasons. This is why they live in mediocrity and often find excuses or blame others for everything that happened in their lives.

Similarly, if you want to overcome smartphone addiction syndrome, you have to give yourself a strong and emotional reason to stop.

Therefore, ask yourself, “Why do I want to stop spending so much time on my phone?”

When your reasons are strong and emotional, you will be more committed and do whatever it takes to stop spending so much time on your phone. You will follow through the decision you have made and change your habit.

For example, an alcoholic who tries to stop his bad drinking habit will never succeed in his attempt to quit drinking unless he has an empowering reason to do so.

If the alcoholic has been diagnosed with liver cancer and the doctor advises him to stop drinking immediate or else he will die within three months, do you think he will do whatever it takes to stop drinking?

Of course, he will do whatever it takes to stop drinking. And the reason is that he has finally found a strong and emotional reason to quit his habit.

When you know exactly why you want to do something, you have a crystal clear purpose and empowering reasons behind to support you, you will be committed to doing it.

The same goes in overcoming cell phone addiction. Find an empowering to stop this bad habit right now.

Developing A New Productive Habit

Cell phone addiction is a habitual behavior and if you want to get rid of it, you must replace the habit with another. Just like smoking, if a smoker chooses to stop smoking, he must choose to replace the ‘blank’ space with something with something else to do.

Whenever you are not using your phone, you must choose to do something else. Hence, identify a few things you can do whenever you are not using your phone.

For example, if your habit is to check your phone for updates the first thing in the morning, try to replace this habit with doing something else. You can choose to read a book or newspaper, to plan for your day, to exercise, or to take a bath.

Whatever you do, you cannot leave it blank. When there is nothing to replace, you will fall back to your old habit and put your cell phone on your hands again.

It is obviously not easy to get rid of a habit, especially if you have been a chronic cell phone addict for a long time.

And like all other habits, the beginning is the most challenging and difficult because your brain is not used to the new habit and you will want to go back to the old one.

Commit to 21 Days

What you have to do is to commit to the new habit for at least 21 days.

Dr. Maxwell Maltz, the author of the famous book, Psycho-Cybernetics suggests that for someone to acquire a new habit, he or she must adopt the new habit for at least 21 days before able to adjust to the new situation.

Of course, this is just estimation, some habits which are more ingrained into your brain require a longer period to replace or remove.

The key is to be consistent and do it for as long as it takes until it becomes your habit.

For example, if you have made the decision to only reply emails and messages at a certain time of the day, commit and hold on to your decision. You have to be consistent and train your mind to follow.

And when you do it for every single day for at least 21 days, there is a high chance that your action of schedule reply to emails and messages will become your new found habit.

Remember, cell phone addiction is a habitual syndrome that can be removed and replaced, but first, you must make the decision to stop and commit to doing it. Give yourself a strong reason why you want to stop spending so much time on your phone and then just follow the plan for at least 21 days.

Smartphones are smart and they are invented to make our life easier, but are you smart enough to learn how to handle and manage this device rather than allowing it to take over your life?

It is true that cell phone has become part of our lives and we need to use it on a daily basis. However, do not let your phone become your master and you become the slave. Learn and apply what you have read in this article and stop cell phone addiction now.

References:

Mobile Technology Fact Sheet & PEW Research Center

nico.associates/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/mobile-technology-fact-sheet

WHO on dependence syndrome

who.int/substance_abuse/terminology/definition1/en/

PsychGuides on cell phone addiction statistic

psychguides.com/guides/cell-phone-addiction/

James Roberts, Baylor University

academicminute.org/2016/09/james-roberts-baylor-university-is-cell-phone-addiction-real/

Nir & Far

nirandfar.com/2012/03/want-to-hook-your-users-drive-them-crazy.html

Distracted Drivers Kill 6,000

cbsnews.com/news/distracted-drivers-kill-6000-last-year/

Rise in back and neck pain

telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/11530863/iPad-neck-Huge-rise-in-back-and-neck-pain-among-youth.html

Smartphone reduces productivity

fortune.com/2016/06/09/smartphones-making-you-slack-at-work-survey/

First and last 60 minutes of your day

alyjuma.com/3-hours/

Bad to sleep near a cell phone

steptohealth.com/bad-sleep-near-cell-phone/

21 days to form new habit

huffingtonpost.com/james-clear/forming-new-habits_b_5104807.html

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Message from Sophia!

I would love to hear from you and read your comments on this article. Let me know what you think about this article. Is it helpful to you? Your comments and suggestions will serve as an inspiration and learning platform for me.
Regards, Sophia
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