With each passing day, our cell phones become more integrated into our daily lives. Texting, scheduling, surfing, watching shows, social media posting, etc. are all things we previously needed separate devices to use or enjoy. But to say that cell phones are evil would be, simply put, ignorant. They have made a number of daily activities so much easier, and we have never been more connected to one another.

All that being said…there is one glaringly large pitfall associated with our phones: addiction. Cell phone addiction is a real thing, and psychologists and neurologists are studying the impact more and more. Several studies have been released over the last couple of years indicating the severity of this very thing, and many professionals are drawing comparisons to other forms of addiction, both in behavior (gambling, pornography, etc.) and brain function (ie, drugs). Below is a list of 5 facts about cell phone addiction and how it can be as addictive as narcotic drugs – even heroin.

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1. Dopamine Dopamine Dopamine

If you’ve followed the news about the opiate crisis, you may have heard of dopamine before. It is the neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of reward or pleasure. It’s a feel-good chemical that drives motivation, aids in forming habits, and has implications in addiction. Dopamine release comes, generally, as a result of a rewarding experience. It causes us to seek out behaviors that will cause another release of dopamine. This is most effective when the reward is unexpected, like…say…a text, a snap, or a ‘like’ on a picture you just posted on Instagram. What makes this particularly troubling is that dopamine is also the main neurotransmitter released when using the large majority of narcotic drugs, chiefly heroin. Heroin causes a FLOOD of dopamine into your brain. So, moral of the story…the dopamine release that you experience as a result of an unexpected reward is an addictive sensation that individuals begin to crave and seek out.

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2. Using Your Phone…No Matter the Cost or Consequence

Though not specifically listed in the DSM-V (the official psychology manual for diagnosing and addressing disorders and behaviors), many psychologists have begun classifying cell phone addiction as an ‘Impulse Control Disorder’, which is included in DSM-V. Several studies have been done which compare typical behaviors of cell phone addicts to the criteria associated with impulse control disorders…and they’ve found a bunch of troubling connections.

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Addicts will seek their phone despite dangerous or painful circumstances. Even more concerning, they will STILL seek their phone even when their family and friends have specifically ordered them not to and have attached consequences to the behavior. They will often prefer their phone to personal interaction and will even feel lonely when without it. Like a drug addict will seek their drug of choice despite overwhelming evidence of its harm to their body and their life, we do the same thing with our cell phones.

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3. The Never-ending Loop of Seeking a Reward

When a drug addict uses their drug, they are immediately flooded with the feelings of euphoria associated with it. Once the drug wears off, they again seek the sensation, eagerly anticipating the reward associated with the activity. The same can be said of cell phone use. Drs. David Greenfield and Susan Weinschenk, both experts in the field of electronic device addiction, use the term “Dopamine Loop” to describe this issue. They reference two things in particular: First, the unpredictable nature of the reward, which makes it more exciting. And second, the fact that when you receive the reward, you want to seek the reward again. It begins a never-ending loop of seeking the reward, being rewarded, and seeking it again. Ever stop to respond to a text message, and then 15 minutes later you’re 30 scrolls into Facebook with no idea how you got there?

Exactly.

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4. Withdrawals and Anxiety

We can hardly stand to be away from our phones. Apple recently reported that, on average, iPhone users unlock their phones 80 times per day. Another research group said that we tap, swipe, or type on our phones at least 2600 times per day. Various studies report that people would rather go without food, drink, sleep, or sex than be without their phone. Another report said that half of people would rather have a broken bone than a broken phone.

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Then there’s Nomophobia – the fear of being without your cell phone. It’s a real condition that doctors and psychologists are dealing with and is a large part of the broader picture of cell phone addiction.

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5. The Brain of a Cell Phone Addict Scarily Mimics the Brain of a Drug Addict

To put it plainly, a brain with a behavioral addiction, like cell phone addiction or internet addiction, often suffers damage quite similar in nature to that of a brain addicted to drugs. Studies have shown that the parts of the brain impacted by cell phone addiction are the same as those impacted by narcotic drug addiction.

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 There Are Symptoms…Time to Self-Check

  • Anxiety (both mild and severe) whenever you do not have your phone or cannot respond immediately to notifications.
  • The incessant need to check your phone for new notifications, coupled with the compulsion to respond immediately no matter the situation (driving, sex, funeral, movie, etc).
  • Phantom cellphone vibration syndrome: Did you feel that? Your phone just vibrated, right? Wrong.
  • Complete disinterest in social interactions with others. You’re not listening.
  • Failing in school or performing poorly at work.
  • The need to have your phone, no matter the personal cost (time, effort, relationship).
  • Increased tolerance. You need more time on your phone to feel fulfilled.
  • Altered moods. Using technology can alter your mood or change your state of mind. For example, sending out a bench of texts when you feel a bit down or turning to a game when you are anxious.

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You can break the addiction. Check out these resources 1, 2, 3. There are also apps that block social media, which may help.