Smartphone Addiction

By Nick Smallman

Use of smartphones

The proportion of people accessing the internet on their mobile has increased from 20% almost a decade ago, to 72% in 2018. Smartphones are ubiquitous in modern society and according to Bankmycell.com, in November 2021 there were 6.37 billion in use . According to Ericsson and Radicati Group, by 2025 this number will have risen to 7.33 billion. Basically, a smartphone is a handheld computer that’s easily capable of accessing the internet.

According to Statista , Smartphones have pulled away from laptops to become the most important device used to access the internet for close to half those accessing it in the United Kingdom. In 2020, significantly more people identified smartphones as their most important device for accessing the internet, compared with those that nominated each of the large display formats combined.

Smartphones have become so popular it’s hard to imagine life without them. However, in some ways smartphones can be harmful because of the negative impact they have on socialising. Where once people would have met in person, they now avoid social contact and use their smartphones instead . Social interactions are necessary for humans to develop and maintain their social skills. Even though social contact can be avoided by using a smartphone, the ability to communicate according to usual social norms is still a necessary aspect of life, and one which can deteriorate if not practised .

Smartphone addiction is sometimes colloquially referred to as “nomophobia” which is basically the fear a person may have of being without their mobile phone. This fear can arise when the virtual relationships people are conducting over dating apps, on social networking, via text or on apps like WhatsApp, become more important than meeting people in real life. In such cases there’s often a focus on short-term relationships.

Are you addicted to your device? Take The Smartphone Addiction Test.

Causes and effects of problem cell phone use

A Frontiers in Psychiatry report run in 2016, suggests using the DSM-5 criteria to measure problematic smartphone use. DSM-5 is the 2013 update to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the taxonomic and diagnostic tool published by the American Psychiatric Association. Using this criterion, the problem symptoms of cell phone use to watch out for include the following:

• Use of cell phones in dangerous or prohibited situations like texting whilst driving
• Excessive use that causes withdrawal from, and conflicts with the family
• Negative effects on school, family, and social life or on normal emotional functioning
• Continued excessive use in the face of obvious negative effects
• Constant checking of the phone even in short bursts
• Insomnia and sleep disturbance related to constant checking
• Increase in use to counteract a distressed mood or to relax
• Excessive urgency or need to be constantly connected
• Need to respond immediately to messages, preferring cell phone to personal contact
• Anxiousness or irritability if phone is not accessible or available
• Person feels uneasy when they can’t use their smartphone

Dopamine – why smartphones are so addictive

In much the same way as slot machines are designed to addict us , so are smartphones . The brain quickly learns to associate the relief from boredom or anxiety that checking a smartphone provides so that eventually, even just thinking about your device will produce the same effect.

Our smartphones endlessly try to engage with us. In fact, they are designed to create dopamine-driven feedback loops – self-perpetuating circuits fuelled by the way dopamine works with our brains’ reward system. Even when a person checks their smartphone the feel-good hormone dopamine is released because the brain anticipates a reward.

What is Dopamine?

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that makes you feel good, and our brains produce it whenever we do something that meets a survival need or gives us pleasure. Countless studies have shown that smartphone activity causes the release of dopamine in our brains

While dopamine isn’t the sole cause of addiction, it’s very much part of the Reward System of the brain that drives our behaviour towards pleasurable stimuli such as Cocaine, Caffeine, Ecstasy, Nicotine, Alcohol, Sex and Smartphones.

Social Media – designed to keep you hooked

Social media is a good model of a feedback loop. As novelty junkies’ we humans search our social media platforms, encouraged by likes and other reactions. We scroll through the newsfeeds seeking out information or entertainment in the hope of finding something interesting. And of course, while we’re doing it, dopamine is released.

Because social media platforms don’t have any kind of satiety mechanism to tell us when we’ve been on them for long enough, we keep searching for much longer than any perceived psychological rewards. But as the designers intended, we keep on scrolling9, because like slot machine gamblers, humans love unpredictability. We know we might win but we don’t know when. 10

But we hate to feel anxious, we want to feel loved, we tend to suffer from fear of missing out (FOMO) and above all, we hate feeling alone. So, in a sense, smartphones help us to self-medicate – and so are very addictive.

But if you or your child both want to feel better than you do now, and aren’t finding it on your smartphones or social media, Find Out More Here

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