Smartphones are so common now that it is unusual for someone to be walking around without a cell phone in their pocket. There’s no question that tech is a great tool to keep us connected with family, friends, and business contacts. Most people treat a smartphone like a constant companion – carrying it throughout the day and even sleeping with it on the nightstand.
The first iPhone came out in 2007, and now it is estimated that more than 3.2 billion people worldwide use smartphones. The numbers continue to grow each year as technology becomes more accessible. Additionally, apps and software development are improving at a remarkable pace, making these phones more useful than ever. Many people will agree that they can’t imagine life without a smartphone since it’s a tool that is used throughout the day.
The rapid increase in smartphone use begs the question: how is this technology affecting individuals, families, and society as a whole? As researchers learn more about the way smartphones are impacting mental and physical health, people are starting to speak out with their concerns about the potential damage that can result from smartphone addiction.
Prevalence of Smartphones in Our Society
How often do you reach for your smartphone each day? When you look at the phone, how much time do you spend? Most people are unaware of the amount of time per day that goes into smartphone usage. If you haven’t used a time-tracking feature on your phone, it can be shocking to see how much time you are spending on this small screen.
The scariest thing about smartphone addiction is that the use of cellphones is so common that many people are unaware of the addictive nature of these devices. In the past, phones were just communication devices: they were connected to the wall with a cord and no screen to look at. Now, phones are portable and are used for everything, from cameras to gaming consoles, health trackers, and GPS systems.
Whenever there are a few minutes of downtime, the natural instinct is to reach for the phone. For example, look around at a grocery store and you will see people scrolling while they are waiting in line at the checkout. Parents spend time on their phones at their kid’s soccer games, and teenagers are often glued to the screens when spending time together in person. Young children are handed a phone to help them stay quiet in restaurants or waiting rooms.
People of all ages use smartphones. At the same time, the risk of smartphone addiction affects both the young and the old.
Smartphone Addiction: Is it Real?
If you’ve had the experience of breaking your phone or losing it for a few hours, you probably noticed the uncomfortable feelings you had during this time. It feels like a fish out of water to not have something to reach for throughout the day! It is common for people to feel anxiety if they are forced to give up their phones for a short time.
The truth is that every time you get a new phone notification, it gives you a mini “high” that is similar to your brain on cocaine. A hit of dopamine in the brain releases feel-good chemicals into your body, which reinforces the behavior. Eventually, this pattern creates an addiction and makes it difficult to live without feeding the habit.
Smartphones have changed human behavior because so many people are ready to respond to these digital notifications. People answer phone calls when it is socially unacceptable and interrupt conversations by looking at email, social media, and text messages. Smartphones provide variable rewards that make it compelling to respond to these notifications, to the point where these things are no longer considered interruptions.
Is Smartphone Addiction Dangerous?
Being addicted to the use of a smartphone seems like a trivial problem compared to using drugs or other dangerous substances. But researchers are finding that cell phone addiction has a more significant impact than we know. Even though smartphones are integrated into all aspects of our lives, don’t overlook the way these pocket-sized devices are impacting our health.
Here are a few reasons why phone addiction needs to be part of the conversation and addressed in our community:
- Depression Rates and Suicide Risk: The risk of depression appears to go up with smartphone use. The occurrence of depression and suicide is at an all-time high, and some healthcare professionals are pointing to smartphones as the cause of this surge in mental health concerns. These issues are particularly alarming among teenagers.
- Poor Attention Spans: Smartphones have a constant, never-ending flow of information that has taken a toll on attention spans. As a result, the prevalence of ADD-like symptoms is on the rise.
- Productivity Interference: Smartphone usage impacts productivity in the workplace and also affects a student’s study time. It’s impossible to put a number on the lost work hours that occur each day due to cell phone usage. But many employers and schools are seeing the problem and implementing bans on smartphones.
- Tech Neck Pain: There is a term in the medical industry now: “tech neck.” The position of hunching over a smartphone for 8 – 10 hours a day takes a toll on physical health. Sitting with the head down puts stress and pressure on the back and spine, which is bad for posture and increases the risk of neck and back issues.
- Sleep Issues: It might seem harmless to scroll a smartphone in bed, but this activity has an impact on sleep patterns. One of the worst things you can do for your sleep is to expose your brain to blue light right before it’s time to sleep. As a result, sleep quality drops, which can have a domino effect on overall health.
Tips for Cutting Back on Phone Use
If you can see that your phone use is getting out of hand, then a few things can be done to break the bad habits:
- Set Specific Goals: Be clear regarding how much time you want to spend on the phone and how it will be used. For example, you might limit yourself to 30 minutes per day of social media scrolling, and keep the phone in the other room during meals.
- Use Apps to Monitor Screen Time: Apps like Digital Well and Screen Time can show a breakdown of how you are using the device. You can also set time limits that will notify you when the limit has been reached.
- Turn Off Push Notifications: Every time a message alert comes through, it triggers the dopamine response in the brain. Turn off these notifications and set predetermined times when you will check your phone. For example, only look at your email three times per day.
- Delete Apps: If you have apps that aren’t being used or are too tempting, try deleting them from your phone for a while. This is an excellent strategy if you want to take a 7-day social media fast or break from games.
- Find an Accountability Partner: Talk to a friend about your goals and ask them to hold you accountable. If needed, set up a reward/consequence system, so you are motivated to stick to your plan.
When is Professional Help Needed for Smartphone Rehab?
How can you tell when cell phone usage has crossed the addiction line? When the use of a cell phone becomes compulsive and interferes with daily activities, then it might be time to seek help. Some people find it challenging to disengage from cell phone usage to the point where it is getting in the way of conversations, socializing, work, and household responsibilities. Outside support from a medical professional can be critical to break the addiction and help the person reestablish a healthy lifestyle once again.
Addiction recovery programs are now available for smartphone usage, as well as other types of digital addictions such as video games and pornography. Researchers have found that addiction treatment can change the chemistry of the reward circuits in the brain. For example, cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) can affect neurotransmitters to help people overcome technology addictions.
At University Urgent Care, we provide quality medical care for people of all ages. If you want to talk to a doctor about physical or mental health concerns, then we invite you to schedule an appointment. These medical services aren’t only for students. Our board-certified nurse practitioners offer medical services for people of all ages in the community: (817) 697-0700.