Are you a teenager or young adult in need of smartphone rehab? The answer appears to be “yes” for more than 30% of American and British teenagers who find it difficult to disconnect from their smartphones or other electronics.
In fact, technology addiction treatment programs are becoming more readily available to help people whose smartphone addictions, also known as “iPhone addictions, have taken over their lives, leading them to disengage from school, work, real social interaction and healthy activities like exercise and enjoyment of the outdoors.
Hooked on Your Smartphone
For people who are hooked on their smartphones or digital tablets, engaging on Snapchat and Instagram or other social media platforms and playing video games become their primary sources of social interaction and entertainment. Signs of a problem? When digital behavior becomes so obsessive that it interferes with life because the person finds it difficult to cease digital activities to join family at the dinner table or do things they would previously have enjoyed, such as going swimming, attending the cinema to see a movie or heading out to meet up with friends. When these signs appear, it is time to seek treatment for what is known as a behavioral process addiction.
Research Confirms That Smartphone Addiction Is Real
Researchers from the University of Maryland’s International Centre for Media and the Public Agenda and collaborating institutions conducted a study titled “The World Unplugged,” for which college-student volunteers at 12 universities around the world were asked to spend 24 hours without access to computers, mobile phones, iPods, television, radio and even newspapers. The aim was to see if the so-called “Net Generation” of digitally connected teens and young adults would experience something akin to withdrawal symptoms when disconnected from the Internet, computer games and social networking.
The study findings revealed that when not allowed to check their texts or emails, or connect to digital technology in any way, participants developed withdrawal symptoms typically seen in people addicted to cigarettes or other substances. Many study participants said they felt like they were trying to kick a hard drug habit or going on a strict diet. This condition has been described by experts as Information Deprivation Disorder.
Other studies and surveys confirm that Information Deprivation Disorder, or technology addiction, causes neurological complications, psychological disturbances and social problems.
How Smartphone Addiction Is Like Cocaine Addiction
When a person uses the stimulant cocaine, it affects the central nervous system, including the brain. It stimulates neurotransmitter receptors in the brain’s reward center with a huge surge of dopamine — an organic feel-good chemical, or neurotransmitter. This release of dopamine is much more abundant than normal, giving the user a rapid rush of energy and sensation of pleasure that radiates through their nervous system. This rewarding pleasure leads them to desire more cocaine so they can sustain or repeat the sensation. The desire for more can lead to addiction in a relatively short time.
In a similar way, smartphones and other technological devices can become addictive because they activate this same neurological reflex: Whenever a person receives a timely response to a text or an Instagram post, they feel a surge of pleasure and reward — the neurotransmitter receptors in the brain’s reward center release dopamine and make them feel good. If they repeat this behavior — compulsively posting messages or sending texts and receiving the “reward” of instant responses — their dopamine levels rise even higher and their brains send the message that this is a good activity. They don’t want to stop, or find it increasingly difficult to tear themselves away from their digital world.
As with cocaine, continued overuse of digital technology can lead to smartphone addiction. Treatment may be necessary to stop the compulsive, addictive behavior and regain a healthier lifestyle with a return to healthy activities.
New Study By Merrill Professor Finds Students Everywhere Addicted to Media. Philip Merrill College of Journalism, University of Maryland, 2011.
The Relationship between Mental Health and Addiction to Mobile Phones among University Students of Shahrekord, Iran. Nasim Hedayati, PhD, et al. Addiction Health, 2014.
Internet Addiction: A Brief Summary of Research and Practice. Hilarie Cash, et al. Current Psychiatry Reviews, 2012. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3480687/
Children as young as 13 attending ‘smartphone rehab’ as concerns grow over screen time. Katie Forster. The Independent, April 14, 2017.
Giving your child a smartphone is like giving them a gram of cocaine, says top addiction expert. Rachel Pells. The Independent, June 7, 2017. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/child-smart-phones-cocaine-addiction-expert-mandy-saligari-harley-street-charter-clinic-technology-a7777941.html