What Makes Us Addicted To Our Phones?

Three people on their smartphones and ignoring each other

In a day and age where we truly are glued to our phones, the question arises “What is it about my phone that has me creepily obsessed?” Surely it can’t just be as simple as daily reliances like using it for payments, contacting close friends and family or work. In this blog we dive deeper into how our smartphones have such a tight grip on our precious attention, how our obsession with phones affects both our mental and physical health and not to mention an impact on our behavioural patterns.

What Makes Us Addicted To Our Phones

It’s all linked to a chemical our brain is constantly chasing - Dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in the brain that plays a key role in pleasure, reward, and motivation. Ever found yourself glued to your phone in the middle of the night when you should be catching up on some sleep? Studies have shown that the reason why we can’t stop scrolling down our feeds is due to our brain continuously chasing dopamine. So with all of this to think about, it’s not that hard to figure out why our phones are so addictive. Social media is definitely one of the biggest culprits when it comes to wasting away precious time. 

Smartphones provide us with information that is novel and social, making them a perfect object of compulsive behaviour, as novel and social stimuli both trigger releases of dopamine (the chemical in our brain that makes us feel good).

Amie M. Gordon, Ph.D., Psychology Today

Our phones allow us to communicate with friends, family and those we lost touch with once we left school. They also aid us in our working lives, emails and calls can be accessed with just a click of a button. Smartphones nowadays are so advanced that many of us use them as cameras because the quality and features are just as good as basic cameras that are on the market. Not to mention how easy it is to purchase both in person and online, which can be extremely convenient but at the same time a slippery slope to go down… 

Symptoms Of Phone Addiction

How do you know you’re addicted to your phone? Because phones are so widely used, it’s difficult to recognise whether you have an addiction when everyone else seems to be doing the same thing as you, or maybe even worse. Here are a few indications that point towards you having an unhealthy obsession with your phone:

  1. You find yourself reaching for your phone during conversations

  2. You use your phone whilst in bed right up until you fall asleep

  3. Your phone use is causing issues within your relationships

  4. You are on your phone even during meal times and watching movies

  5. You find it difficult to not check your phone.

All five of these points are ways you can identify whether there are changes you can make to your phone habits and also just to better understand why you rely so heavily on your trusty device. Oftentimes we reach for our phone purely as a boredom resolution. If we frequently do this and form a habit, it can cause feelings of anxiety, depression and even increased irritability when we don’t have our phone. Although mobile phone addiction isn’t recognised as an official condition within the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM-5-TR), it comes into question that the door is open for it to be incorporated due to the simple fact that it can already resemble other behavioural addictions listed. 

The Side Effects Of Phone Addiction

There are a handful of side effects when it comes to the overuse of phones, both mentally and physically, but how many of them have you experienced and should you be concerned? Take a look at the most common discoveries that are direct consequences of phone addiction.

The Rise Of The Text Claw

Ever heard of the term ‘Text Claw’? It’s a non-medical term which describes finger cramping and aching muscles as a result of phone overuse e.g. prolonged texting and scrolling. If you have experienced tingling in your pinky or ring finger, then it’s likely that you’ve had your elbow bent for long periods of time when using your phone. The medical term for this is "Cubital Tunnel Syndrome".

If you’re suffering from these aches and cramping then it probably is a strong sign that you should reduce your mobile phone usage. In addition to experiencing obvious side effects which include, but not limited to, migraines, neck pain and eye problems, you may also start to notice a change in your mental health. Shyness, low self-esteem, depression and anxiety have all been linked to phone overuse. If you’re constantly being overstimulated or scrolling through social media more than you interact with people in real life, then it’s clear you should consider making a real change to your phone use habits. Maybe consider taking up a new hobby that does not involve any technology and get your body used to less static forms of movement as well as stimulating a different part of your brain.

Phantom Vibrations

Ever thought that your phone vibrated and when you go to check, there’s not a text, call or notification in sight? So, what’s the deal? You may be experiencing something called ‘Phantom Vibration Syndrome’ which means perceived vibrations from a device that is not really vibrating. Although scientists aren’t sure what causes these strange hallucinations, our guess is that it’s due to our overuse of mobile phones. It is so common that a study, carried out by a Professor at the University of Indiana, uncovered that 89% of undergraduate students say they have experienced this eerie phenomenon and claimed that it didn’t bother them. This just shows that it has become second nature, despite the fact that it is a growing issue. If you’re experiencing this, then try to keep your phone away from you e.g. in a bag or a separate room when you do not need it and you can even go as far as turning off the vibration setting. This could be a good way to break the cycle of constantly anticipating a phone notification.

Midnight Check

A study shows that millennials check their phone 150 times a day including during the night. It also found that they cannot go more than 5 hours without reaching to check their phone! Scientists suggest that people feel a sense of euphoria when they receive a text message or a comment on a photo posted on Instagram so it’s clear that we are so addicted that we can’t help but scroll for a little while longer when in bed…

Seventy-nine percent keep a phone nearby when they sleep, and half check their phone in the middle of the night - Inc.com

This study really highlights the fact that millennials are pretty much addicted to their phones just like the rest of the population! They're constantly checking them, even in the middle of the night, just for that sweet hit of dopamine.

Relevant reading:

How To Stop Smartphone Addiction

Let’s get down to the nitty gritty of it all. Everyday compulsions play a huge part in keeping us glued to our phones. Whether it be online shopping, games and social media, at least one of these factors is enough to keep us occupied for hours. Although mobile phones can also be seen as a positive element in our lives, for example the fact that we are able to maintain and create relationships virtually that may otherwise prove to be difficult or simply impossible, our phones can also impact us negatively. Sure, it would be extremely difficult to complete daily reliances without our phones e.g. working, banking, making payments and contacting those all important people in our lives, but when do we start to put in place boundaries to slow down these dangerous habits?

Think of it this way: our phones encourage certain addictive behaviours by emphasising the idea that something exciting, demanding your full attention, could occur at any moment. Whether it be through your apps constantly notifying you and the noises and vibrations being hard to ignore, it’s clear that the unpredictability causes us to adopt a feeling of sudden anticipation which keeps us hooked, picking it up for more. But how do we stop?

  1. Set phone use limits

  2. Start a hobby that requires no technology usage

  3. Leave your phone in a different room whilst you sleep

  4. Turn off your phone notifications

  5. Want to play a game? Make use of the board games that are collecting dust in your cupboard or even play a card game with a loved one.

Whatever it is, make it fun and interesting enough to keep you away from your phone!

Relevant reading:

Key Takeaway

It’s clear that the overuse of smartphones can cause an array of problems based on our mental and physical health, but what about the environmental cost? Our obsession leaks into the heavy e-waste problem caused by the huge demand for mobile phones. These reasons should all be strong motivations for us to attempt to lessen the grip our trusty devices have on our lives and ultimately our time.


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