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What Is Cell Phone Addiction and How to Break It

August 04, 2022 5 min read

cell phone addiction

Powerful compulsions drive addictions. People addicted to nearly anything—drugs, gambling, or food—often feel as though their thoughts and behaviors are on auto-pilot. Automatic thoughts and behaviors govern addiction; the same holds true for cell phone addiction.

A person who has developed a cell phone addiction interacts with their phone automatically. When it beeps, they look. If it vibrates, they pick it up. Some people compulsively check their phones multiple times a day, even when there aren't any notifications.

According to thePew Research Center, 97% of Americans own a cellphone. The more people engage with cell phones, the more automatic their interactions become. Eventually, they may feel unable to put their phone down for a significant time, even when they should be sleeping.

Even so, a person can overcome automatic thoughts and behaviors and learn to manage compulsive smartphone habits. In the case of cell phone addiction, the positive news is that there isn't a chemical dependency to overcome. With time and practical strategies, a person can stop cell phone addiction and reduce overall device use. 


What Is Cell Phone Addiction?

Cell phone addiction is the obsessive use of a cell phone or smartphone. Relying too heavily on a cell phone paves the way to addiction. But you may wonder, what's considered "too heavily" in this tech-driven world?

People spend approximately three hours a day using their smartphones. You might rely on your phone for work or entertainment. These days, people use their phones for all sorts of things. From tracking fitness progress, texting friends and family, and checking email, to monitoring the weather and creating to-do lists, the options are endless.

Heavy use doesn't necessarily indicate addiction, however. A person battling addiction may experience anxiety or even fear when their phone is out of reach or cannot be accessed. They may feel compelled to use their phone at odd times, even if it's bothersome to others. 


Cell Phone Addiction Symptoms

A person who has developed a smartphone addiction may experience some or all of the following cell phone addiction symptoms:

  • Reduced concentration

  • Feelings of anxiety or panic

  • Sleep disturbances or lack of sleep

  • Lying about cell phone use

  • Failing to complete other tasks

  • Insecurity

  • Stress

  • Isolation or loneliness

  • Mood swings

  • Poor performance at work or school

  • Reduced in-person social interactions 

  • Fear of missing out on something important

  • Feeling increasingly reliant on phone use

In short, people who become addicted to their cell phones appear to use them obsessively. Compulsive phone use may impede relationships and negatively impact participation in other life activities. 


Cell Phone Addiction and Brain Chemistry

Overuse of connective devices like smartphones can impact the brain's chemistry. Heavy cell phone use affects a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which produces feelings of calm or even euphoria. GABA can also affect feelings of fear and anxiety. 

Overuse of smartphones disturbs the GABA balance, causing an increase or decrease in the amount of GABA produced. 

When using a device, a phone-addicted individual may feel a heightened euphoria when receiving notifications that trigger the brain's reward center. Conversely, people struggling with cell phone addiction may experience heightened feelings of anxiety or depression when phone notifications go quiet. Withdrawal symptoms may also appear if they cannot use their phone for a period of time. 


What to Do If You Have a Cell Phone Addiction

Cell phone addictions are on the rise. Experiencing this type of addiction can be frustrating for sufferers, their friends, and their family members. It can feel overwhelming and nearly impossible to stop using the phone with such chronic frequency.

Fortunately, you can manage a cell phone addiction. Addiction is a complex issue that isn't easily cured or reversed, but many resources are available for treatment and support. There are various ways to treat cell phone addiction, and some possible treatments include:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) addresses the automatic thoughts and feelings that govern addiction. During this form of treatment, people learn how their behaviors connect to their automatic thoughts and emotions. Working with a therapist, they can develop strategies for confronting those automatic thoughts to behave with greater mindfulness and purpose.

Group Therapy

Group therapy can be a powerful support for people suffering from any form of addiction, including smartphone addiction. The group format allows participants to support and interact with others while unplugging from technology. Therapists typically engage the group with subject matter relative to addiction and its management.

Couples Counseling

Couples counseling can be helpful when a spouse is struggling with a cell phone addiction. Not surprisingly, this type of addiction can negatively affect any relationship. A therapist can work with both parties to help them through this serious issue. A spouse or partner can provide much-needed support for someone learning to curb problematic cell phone usage.

Medication-Assisted Treatment

Many people who suffer from addiction may also have an underlying mental disorder such as depression or anxiety. Mental illnesses can exacerbate addiction and vice versa. Medication management may help someone suffering from this type of dual diagnosis while working on treating root causes. Appropriate screen time use can be part of a healthy lifestyle when used in balance.

How To Stop Cell Phone Addiction

Are you fed up with giving so much of your day to mindless scrolling? The time you spend on your phone potentially compromises mental health, but it's not too late to change that. If you're wondering how to stop cell phone addiction, give some of these tips a try:

Turn off notifications

Most apps prompt you to allow push notifications so that they can capture your attention throughout the day. The more apps you have installed on your phone, the more these unnecessary distractions can become overwhelming. Try limiting push notifications in your phone settings and only allow notifications for essential apps such as email, calendar reminders, and text messages.

Limit the time you spend

Utilizing your phone's system preferences and in-app timers, set time limits for the apps that occupy most of your time. Instagram, for example, now offers the ability to set a daily time limit.

Simply go to the three lines in the top right corner of the app. Next, select Your Activity -> Time Spent -> Set Daily Time Limit. Within these settings, you can also create reminders to take breaks after 10, 20, or 30 minutes.

Set a timer

Using the alarm clock on your cell phone can help establish a healthy relationship with your device. Begin with setting the alarm every 15-30 minutes, then allow yourself one minute to respond to notifications. Gradually increase the amount of time between your alarms.

Don't sleep with your phone

There are several reasons why keeping your cell phone away from your bed at night is a good idea. Learn more about how to reduce time spent on your phone before bed in our recent blog post:Is it bad to sleep next to your phone?

Phone Detox Program

There are many paths to phone addiction recovery, and you don't have to give up your phone cold turkey.SLNT has developed a convenient phone detox program for people struggling with smartphone addiction. Our program helps people regain a healthy use of connective devices to enjoy a more well-balanced life. Overcoming cell phone addiction is tough to do alone, which is why participating in a supportive program can be so beneficial.

Phone detox participants can rely on the program's structure and strategies to help them manage their addiction. Cell phones don't have to consume your life. If you're experiencing any signs or symptoms of a cell phone addiction, check out theSLNT Phone Detox Program. It's time to break up with cell phone addiction and get your life back.