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Smartphone Addiction: Symptoms, Causes, Effects & More

Smartphone Addiction: Symptoms, Causes, Effects & More!

When was the last time you stayed away from your phone for hours? Cannot remember? That could be because no matter where you are, who you are with, what you are doing, you may always have your phone near you, blinking continuously at every notification, tempting you to open it and check what the notification is.

Has it also happened that, for no apparent reason, you keep unlocking your phone, you check the same 4-5 apps to scroll mindlessly, even though there is nothing interesting going on in there? But why does this keep happening? Why cannot we stay away from our phone? What makes us so obsessive about our smartphones? Let’s find out!

What is Smartphone Addiction?

We hear the word addiction many times in the normal context. It could be used as ‘He is just addicted to playing games.’ Or ‘She is addicted to watching Netflix.’ and so on. But addiction is much more than that. So, let’s get to first understand what addiction is. Addiction is a state wherein a person is unable to stop engaging in a specific behaviour, to a point where this behaviour starts interfering in his/her daily functioning. In addiction, a person will keep going back to the addictive behaviours even though they know that it will have a harmful effect on them.

In smartphone addiction, one may keep checking their phones for missed calls, texts, WhatsApp messages, or any other social media to the point where they cannot stop themselves from being away from their phone. Here, one knows that they can return a call later, or respond to a text in sometime, but in spite of knowing it, they would want to check their phones. Now one thing that is important when we talk about addiction is the pattern of being pervasive. An example of this is- a person with smartphone addiction will keep showing the behaviours of addiction in all settings- college, office, a function etc., with equal frequency and intensity. So, if a person is attending a close friend’s wedding, there too he/she will be obsessed with their smartphone just as equally as they would be in their free time, instead of being present in the function.

What is Internet and Smartphone Addiction Test?

There are different questionnaires or tests which are developed by psychologists to assess one’s smartphone and Internet usage. In some of these tests, the level of dependence on the smartphone and Internet can also be checked, which can give an idea whether the person needs to be checked for smartphone or Internet addiction. 

In recent times, many psychologists and students are researching this area to understand whether this is an issue of addiction or impulse control. In any matter, a psychological evaluation, or a psychological test, gives a clear idea of the diagnosis which helps the psychologists with the treatment plan. 

What is Smartphone Addiction Rate?

According to the study of National Centre for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), it was said that around 39% to 44% Indians fall in the smartphone addiction range. The vulnerable age group that falls the most in this category are the teenagers and that we all can actually see. You step out of the house, and you’ll find teenagers sitting in a group, doing nothing but being on their individual homes. If you have teenagers at home, just observe how they get immersed in their phones, as if they are in their own world where others do not exist. It’s just them and their phones. Most of the time, teenagers or for that matter, even adults do not pay attention to a conversation as they are so engrossed in the phones. 

The NCBI further studied and came to the conclusion that being addicted to the smartphones not only increases the levels of loneliness amongst the teens, but it also has immense negative and adverse effects on their psychological and physical health. 

What Causes Smartphone Addiction?

We live in a tech savvy world where a year old gets introduced to a smartphone and the parents proudly present it to the world that how the 1-year-old child can easily access the phone. Similarly, the school going children were relied on phones for their online classes during the lockdown, and since then their dependence on the smartphones has also increased. The college going students, or even adults for that matter, get reward like feelings after posting on social media and getting numerous likes and comments. The working class need their phone because our entire world has been put into our smartphones. Need to get somewhere? Switch on the GPS. Want to plan a party? Open ‘keep’ to note down points. Want to remind yourself to attend a meeting? Put it on as a reminder. Why just this, but our mornings also start by switching off the alarms on our beloved smartphones. The retired class find their solace in the smartphone to stay connected with their friends or their children. So, you see, one way or another, we are all highly dependent on our phones. But sometimes, this behaviour of constantly being on or checking the phone increases to the limit where staying without our phone seems like a task. So, the very first cause of mobile addiction is not stopping at the right time! 

Let’s get to some of the main causes which lead to smartphone addiction-

  • Exposure: Exposure to smartphones early in life increases one’s dependence on it. Uncontrolled dependence then could lead to addiction. 
  • Parental neglect: Today’s parents are working which is a good thing but bringing your work home and not paying attention to the child can make them feel neglected. Sometimes the parents may also have dinner with family by having a phone in another hand, this may lead to children trying to find a connection with other people in the world and smartphones are made to make these outer world connections. This dependence may also increase because children may use smartphones to distract themselves from loneliness.
  • The dopamine factor: Our brain contains several pathways which releases different chemicals. One such ‘feel good’ chemical is Dopamine. Dopamine is released when we are in rewarding situations, such as winning a competition, receiving a compliment etc. Now such rewarding situations also arise while using smartphone. How? Remember how happy you get when your freshly uploaded picture gets 100+ likes and tons of comments? What about the time when your phone vibrates and you think it is a message from your crush because that’s what happened 2 days ago! So, you see, our brain now catches such instances as the ones which makes you feel good. In order to feel even better this cycle continues but after a point you have no pictures to upload or you are bored making social connections, but now you are used to checking the phone as a habit and this habit then leads to addiction, of course it takes time for this habit to turn into addiction, but we can say that this habit, if not rectified, can be first step to causing addiction. 

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Smartphone Addiction?

The signs shown by someone who is addicted to their smartphones can be pretty intense. You can also guess about the addiction by observing the people who are close to the person who is suffering from smartphone addiction. Usually, it is family members and they may exhibit extreme frustration and irritation due to this behaviour of the individual which may then get replaced by concern and panicky behaviour as the individual shows extreme signs of addiction. Let’s see what these signs can be-

  • Excessive use: Need to use a smartphone to achieve desired happiness. Unable to feel the same feelings otherwise. 
  • Preoccupation: Continuously thinking about smartphones when not using it for minutes. Getting excited to unlock it within seconds or minutes of locking it. 
  • Difficulty in focusing: Having trouble focusing not only on work or studies, but also in other areas such as focusing on a conversation, buying groceries, watching a series, painting etc. without looking or using the smartphone. 
  • Lying: Here, panicking to hide the phone if someone, who knows the extra usage of the phone, walks into the room. In students or adolescents, lying about using the phone when not asked to or taking the phone from the hiding place when parents are asleep can be few of the signs. 
  • Anxiety: Feeling anxious if one is away from their phone even for a few minutes. Carrying phones everywhere they go, and have difficulty in handing it over to someone. 
  • Tasks: Unable to complete even the smallest of the small tasks because of the time spent on the smartphone and this stays persistent for a long time. 
  • Withdrawal symptoms: Feeling anxious, irritated, angry to an extreme level when they are kept away from using the phone for a long time. 
  • Nomophobia: NO MObile phobia is the fear of being away or detached from their phone. 
  • Textaphrenia: Thinking that one has heard a text message notification or sound when there is no message received in reality. 
  • Phantom vibration: Perception that the phone is ringing or vibrating when it doesn’t in reality. 

 What are the Effects of Smartphone Addiction?

One of the major side and negative effects of having smartphone addiction is the compulsiveness. Along with that, it can make a person feel lonely or add on to their loneliness. Let’s divide the effects into two parts, Physical effects and psychological effects to understand it better. 

  1. Smartphone Addiction Physical effects:
  2. Drained eyes: Eyes may start to hurt or itch due to excessive stress on the eyes by watching the screen for long hours. One may also get blurred vision and eye fatigue. 
  3. Headaches: One can get frequent headaches due to being exposed to smartphone screens and eye strain. 
  4. Sleep disturbance: One may get restless during sleep time when the time comes to keep the phone away. One may keep reaching to the phone and that can cause sleep disturbance.
  5. Increase or decrease in weight: The people with smartphone addiction may sit at one place to use the phone. This may restrict their movement which can affect their weight to increase. On the other hand, due to this compulsive behavior, one may forget to eat throughout the day, this may lead to excessive weight loss. 
  6. Increased illness: The cell phone radiations are harmful to our physical bodies. In some studies, it was seen that extreme exposure to smartphones lead to male infertility. 
  7. Smartphone Addiction Mental Health effects:
  8. Anxiety: Constantly checking the phone, fear of missing out can lead to extreme distress and anxiety which may make one lose focus and reduce their concentration. 
  9. Reduced Attention: Being so engrossed in the phone may make one not pay attention to the surrounding people or environment. This can also make a person forgetful. 
  10. Creativity block: If the mind is focused only on the smartphone and its apps, then it won’t have space to do cognitive tasks and be creative. This will lead to creativity block in the person. 

Smartphone Addiction in Teens:

The age group to get most affected by smartphones is the teenage group. In this age group, they are introduced to the outside world and its glamour. Having the best smartphone can be their goal. Getting different features on the phones can make them be on their phones for a long time. Best camera quality will make them click many pictures. On top of it, the Internet and smartphones make a duo to make teenagers get lost in their own world. 

This is the story of every teenager we meet. And to some extent this has become a new normal, but one needs to be cautious that this does not happen so frequently that other work gets sidelined, then it can be hazardous for them and a start for addiction. Smartphone addiction in teens is the worst because this is the age where they start forming social relationships, start understanding the society they live in. At such times, if they are preoccupied with their phones, then their ability to form meaningful social relationships will diminish or worse, it won’t develop at all. This can lead to loneliness in their further life. 

How You Can Help A Child Or Teen With Smartphone Addiction?

Using smartphones can be actually very useful for teenagers. They live in a competitive world where they need a lot of information for their education. But it is useful only if it is used for their own betterment and for limited time. Let’s see how parents, caregivers, or friends can help teenagers to overcome their addiction or even overuse of the smartphone. 

  • Don’t pester: One mistake that the parents or caregivers can do is pestering kids to not use the phone. This makes the child ignore the parents wish because they become used to it and may also find it irritating. So they may not act on this command. 
  • Alternatives: Instead of asking the individual to not use the phone, give them an alternative like accompanying you in the garden, helping you in the household chores or even something fun like painting or dancing together or having a karaoke session. 
  • Educate them: Instead of lecturing them on overuse of phones, educate them about its effect. Explain to them the pros and cons of having a smartphone. And if they need more apt information, take them to a psychologist who can explain it to them in a better and scientific way! 
  • Make changes in yourselves: This tip is especially for the parents. If you ask the kids to put their phones away and at the same time if you spend your time on the phone then that won’t really make any sense to the kids. Kids try to observe and model their parent’s behaviour, so try to reduce your smartphone usage first if you want your kids to do the same! 
  • No phone time: Everyday have at least an hour of no-phone where you get together and do some activities or you assign the kids some activities without their phone. A no-phone policy during meal times is also a great option! 

How to treat Smartphone Addiction:

Smartphone Addiction can be treated using psychotherapy. The first important element of the treatment is to understand what led to this addiction in the individual. Once the cause is clear, then treating the addiction becomes easier. 

To help people overcome smartphone addiction, social support is required. For that, referring them to support groups can be extremely beneficial along with having their own support system. 

Self-help tips to treat Smartphone Addiction:

Diagnosing smartphone addiction is a bit difficult. But if you feel that you’re overusing it then you are use following ways to overcome it:

  • No phone morning: This one may sound a bit difficult to all the ones whose first task in the morning is to check their phone. But, with practice it becomes easier and it also adds happiness to your day. So, do not use your smartphone in the morning immediately after you wake up. Do your morning chores and only then get back to your phone. 
  • 15 minutes usage: In this technique you are free to use your phone for 15 minutes and you’ll have to keep your phone away for the remaining 45 minutes. Try to accomplish at least 5 cycles initially and then increase it! 
  • Set time limit: Every week, set a time limit that you’ll spend on your phone. Reward yourself for following it and similarly, if you fail then punish yourself like not having your favourite meal for that week, or not watching the next episode of the series etc. 
  • Make someone in charge: If you find it too difficult to keep your phone away on your own, then ask someone to take charge of it. Give them your phone and ask them to not give it to you for the time that you have set or until you finish your day’s task! 

FAQs related to smartphone addiction:

Q1. Are you a smartphone addict?

A: Diagnosing smartphone addiction is a bit tricky. But what we can look at is overuse of it. If you feel like you are continuously on your phone for no reason, you keep locking and unlocking every 10 minutes, if you overlook other work or tasks just to spend more time on your phone, if you feel extremely uncomfortable at the thought or actual situation of not using the phone then you may be overusing it. 

Q2. Why are we addicted to smartphones?

A: Smartphones make us escape reality, distracting ourselves from the surroundings which makes us relax a bit from our daily schedule. This feel-good factor makes us use the phone more. But after a while, this escapism becomes a habit, no matter what our daily functioning is. This habit, if it lasts for a long time, can turn into addiction. 

Q3. How to cure smartphone addiction? 

Training one’s mind to be in control is the ultimate treatment for smartphone addiction. Sure, it is going to be difficult, but once you go through the dark tunnel only then you’ll see the light at the end of it. 

Q4. Is smartphone addiction real?

Yes, although it is difficult to diagnose, smartphone addiction is very real. 

Q5. Can social skills predict smartphone addiction?

It can be the other way round. Smartphone addiction can definitely hamper one’s ability to socialise or to develop social skills. This may lead to loneliness or even depression in their later life. 

Q6. How can society solve addiction to smartphone?

As a society, it is important to understand that smartphone addiction is very real and that it is very difficult for the person to deal with and overcome it. Educating people about the pros and cons of smartphones, creating awareness about the techniques to use to control the overuse of smartphones and creating as many support groups as possible for the same can help the members to improve their condition and it will also help the support system of these individuals to stay strong and help the individuals.

Q7. How to control your child’s smartphone addiction?

Creating a routine for them where an adequate amount of time is allotted for smartphone use can help the children understand how to use the smartphone without abusing it. And taking help of a professional in cases of real addiction will definitely improve the child’s condition. 

When to seek help

It is important to understand that one need not wait to get the condition worse to seek help. You can visit a psychologist whenever you feel like you are losing your control when it comes to using your smartphone. The earlier you start, the better the effects of therapy will get. 

One need not get tensed if diagnosed with smartphone addiction. With different therapies, medications and ample support one can get to fight off the addiction. So, know that you are not alone! 

Want to know more about smartphone addiction?

If you are intrigued to get more information from the professional himself then you are in the right place. We at WAITT are organizing a masterclass for general population, above 13 years of age, to know in detail about smartphone addiction. The masterclass would be conducted by Dr. Bhooshan Shukla (MD, DNB, MRCPsych), Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist.

The key takeaways for this masterclass would be- Being aware of your own smartphone usage pattern, knowing if any harm is coming your way due to current pattern of smartphone use, finding rational ways to deal and manage with these behavioural patterns and much more.

The masterclass would be conducted on 22nd April 2022, 4pm onwards on an online platform. If you want to book your seat then you can click on the site- https://www.waitt.in/look-up-internet-addiction-disorder-how-to-reclaim-real-life-come-back-to-the-reality/, fill all your information, pay for the masterclass and your seat will be booked!

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Shriya Khalate

Counselor, Team WAITT

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