Addiction is when something you enjoy – like eating chocolate, for example – becomes an obsession. You indulge so much that it begins to have a negative impact on your life.
That's why it's so easy for many people to become addicted to drugs. The euphoria of the first experience takes over and the user stays high so much they can't function in their everyday life.
So it's probably wise to pay attention when psychologists start talking about cell phone addiction, and they're beginning to talk about it more and more. In America, there are more cell phones than people.
A Baylor University marketing professor, James Roberts, sounded the alarm 2 years ago, warning that on college campuses at least, smartphones have evolved from a consumer tool to status symbol.
At the time, Roberts suggested that the need to constantly text and respond to texts is driven by materialism and impulsiveness, much like the pathologies that lead to compulsive buying and running up credit card bills.
So Roberts decided to look into the issue more deeply. In a study published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions, he said he found that female college students spend, on average 10 hours a day using their phones in one way or another. Men, he found, use their phones for about 8 hours a day.
“That’s astounding,” Roberts said. “As cellphone functions increase, addictions to this seemingly indispensable piece of technology become an increasingly realistic possibility.”
Not in denial
Just as astounding, most college students are not in denial about their dependence. The study found that 60% admitted that they could suffer from a form of addiction.
The cell phone activities that produced the most addiction associations were checking Pinterest and Instagram. Other activities that might be thought of as linked to addiction – web surfing and playing games – were not.
Even though the latest smartphones come laden with new features and apps, the most common activity remains texting – something cellphone users have been doing since the flip phone. The average respondent estimated about 90 minutes of texting activity each day.
While men tended to rely on smartphones for more utilitarian purposes, women used them most to stay connected with friends. Men also turn to their devices for entertainment purposes, or as one participant put it, “for wasting time.”
Who talks anymore?
Cellphones now are more like small computers you can carry in your pocket, rather than a telephone. People still use them for voice communication, but it's becoming so uncommon that almost all cellular providers now offer unlimited calling as part of their packages.
With a smartphone, you can not only communicate instantly with a friend half a world away, you can check who is saying what on social media, listen to music or watch a movie. These are amazing devices, full of endless possibilities. No wonder people spend so much time using them.
But does that make them addictive? In an educational setting, Roberts believes they can be. He says excessive or obsessive cellphone use can cause conflict inside and outside the classroom: with professors, employers and families.
“Some people use a cellphone to dodge an awkward situation. They may pretend to take a call, send a text or check their phones,” Roberts said.
The test of addiction, he says, is if cellphone activities move from being a helpful tool to one that undermines the users well-being and that of others.
Psychologists have also begun to worry about the possibility of cell phone addiction. ReStart is an Internet addiction recovery program in Washington State. It provides help to consumers who feel their dependence on technology has made their lives worse.
It starts, however, with recognizing smartphone use has become a problem. If you panic when you can't find your phone, using it during social/family events, take it with your everywhere and wake up in the morning looking for it, ReStart says you may have a problem.