7 Things To Know if You Think You're Addicted to Your Phone

Cell phone addiction is real, and it's worse than you think—here are some facts from the book 'How to Break Up With Your Phone'

Are you reading these words on a phone? If the answer is yes, you're in good company. According to research published in 2017 by the media analytics company Comscore, the average American adult spent approximately 2 hours and 51 minutes on their smartphone every single day in 2016.

In other words, if you've ever questioned whether that twitchy feeling you get every time you scroll Instagram is a sign of actual addiction, you can officially stop wondering.

They say recovery starts with acknowledging your problem, and you can start with the 2018 book How To Break Up With Your Phone by award-winning health journalist Catherine Price.

A slim, insight-packed volume that's both a primer on the toll smartphone overuse can take on our mental and physical health, and a practical manual for a 30-day reset designed to put you on a path to moderation, this is a book with a message that couldn't feel more timely, or more urgent.

Price nailed her research: Nearly every page of her book contains a startling number or nugget designed to deliver a serious wake-up call. So, if you're still not convinced the message applies to you, here are seven facts—and a few easy suggestions—that might help if you think you're addicted to your phone.

Four friends all looking at their phones at cafe

Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

1. There's a Test for Cell Phone Addiction

Here it is: The Smartphone Compulsion Test, developed by David Greenfield, PhD, of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine. According to Greenfield, a "yes" answer to more than five out of the 15 questions indicates that a person likely has a problematic relationship with their mobile device. Try it for yourself—but be prepared. As Price herself admitted, these days, it seems like "the only way to score below a 5 on this test is to not have a smartphone."

2. "Phubbing" Is a Thing

You know that habit your friend has of casually checking her texts while you're talking? Well, it's so common that there's an actual name for it: phubbing, as in phone-snubbing.

3. Social Media Apps Are Designed To Hook You

Do you find yourself mindlessly reaching for your phone? Or refreshing your social media feeds, even when you just checked them minutes ago? Don't beat yourself up. The truth is, nearly every app on your phone has been expertly engineered to produce those very responses by designers skilled in manipulating brain chemistry to elicit addictive behaviors.

Case in point: "Instagram," Price explained, "has created code that deliberately holds back on showing users new 'likes' so that it can deliver a bunch of them in a sudden rush at the most effective moment possible—meaning the moment at which seeing new likes will discourage you from closing the app."

4. Smartphones and Slot Machines Have Something in Common

You know it well: that sudden anticipation you feel whenever you pick up your phone. Psychologists have a term for that irresistible feeling of unpredictability: intermittent rewards. And guess what other common devices encourage addictive behaviors by preying on that sense that something exciting could happen at any moment? Slot machines. In fact, Price said, smartphones are basically slot machines we keep in our pockets.

5. Our Phones Are Altering Our Brains

Do you feel like you can't concentrate anymore? Has your ability to remember things you've read gotten dramatically worse since you started doing the lion's share of your reading online? It's not your imagination. According to Price, when we read digital media, the cluttered landscape of links and ads and the short bursts of attention that are required by scrolling and swiping, and tweeting result in a contradiction in terms: "an intensely focused state of distraction."

And while that distraction seems like it should be temporary, its effects are actually chillingly long-term. "This type of frequent, focused distraction," Price explained, "isn't just capable of creating long-lasting changes in our brains; it is particularly good at doing so."

6. Apps Are Selling the Most Valuable Thing We Have

Yes, social media can be fun—but Price pointed out that it's important to remember that those apps are about more than just sharing selfies. "Have you ever wondered why social media apps are all free?" she asked. "It's because we are not actually the customers and the social media platform itself is not the product. Instead, the customers are advertisers. And the product being sold is our attention….This is a really big deal, because our attention is the most valuable thing we have. When we decide what to pay attention to in the moment, we are making a broader decision about how we want to spend our lives."

7. There's a Good Reason Tech Innovators Don't Let Their Kids Have Devices

As Price pointed out, when it comes to their personal lives, many of the leading innovators in digital technology have chosen to shield their own families from the devices for as long as possible. Consider this: Steve Jobs didn't let his kids use the iPad. And Bill and Melinda Gates did not let their children have phones until they were 14.

Fear Not

There is still some good news—namely, that we all have a chance to reverse course, correct our addictive behaviors, and find a relationship with our phones that feels productive and positive, not toxic. Where to start? Price laid the plan out comprehensively in the book, of course—but if you're itching for some immediate action, there are plenty of baby steps you can take right away.

First things first, go into your settings and disable your phone's notifications. Next, download a tracking app, like IOS Screen Time for iPhone and Digital Wellbeing for Android, that can help give you a reality check about just how much of your waking life you're actually spending staring at that little screen.

Finally, banish your phone from your bedroom and buy yourself an actual alarm clock. And remember: Tomorrow is a whole new day.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles