The Reality and Risks of Cell Phone Addiction

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People looking at phone

The widespread use of cell phones has turned into an obsession for many people. The ubiquitous presence of these mobile devices leads many to lampoon the bizarre love affair people have with smart phones.

But not everyone is laughing. In fact, there is growing concern about the possibility of cell phone addiction and the various health risks it may include.

Is Cell Phone Addiction Actually Possible?

There seems to be very little argument that cell phones can produce, or at least contribute to, a number of compulsive behaviors. But experts disagree about whether these behaviors should be classified as addictions.

To help answer that question, Baylor University completed a study that examined cell phone use among college students. The study evaluated 24 common cell phone activities and found evidence for addictive behaviors among participants. Sixty percent of the students involved in the survey admitted they might be addicted to their phones.

The study showed that compulsive behaviors were focused primarily on activities like texting, email, social media use and surfing the Internet. Some indicated that an inability to perform these behaviors produced agitation similar to that experienced in withdrawal from various substances.

The study revealed that addiction to a piece of technology was an increasingly realistic possibility. Further evidence for this possibility is growing, including reports of institutions offering rehabilitation programs to help people overcome debilitating symptoms of addiction to their smartphone or other similar technologies.

Symptoms of Cell Phone Addiction

Although a precise diagnosis of cell phone addiction has not yet been determined, there are unmistakable similarities between compulsive cell phone behaviors and those associated with other forms of addiction.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders identifies the criteria for diagnosing gambling addiction, which has been compared to cell phone addiction. Borrowing from those diagnostic guidelines, the presence of at least four of the following signs and symptoms could indicate a problematic cell phone addiction:

  • Tolerance – increasing use, along with a driving need for the newest phone or more applications
  • Inability to limit use – repeated failure to decrease the amount of time spent using a cell phone
  • Preoccupation – user resorts to cell phone during uncomfortable moments or when experiencing unwanted feelings
  • Loss of a sense of time – elapsed time becomes irrelevant or unnoticed due to excessive use
  • Job/relationship sacrifice – damaging a relationship or risking a job due to excessive cell phone use
  • Withdrawal – occurs when a cell phone or network is not available and results in anger, tension, depression, irritability or restlessness

Adverse Effects of Cell Phone Addiction

These behaviors and symptoms can produce results that adversely affect the lives of those involved. The harmful effects cover a range of possibilities from mildly unpleasant to serious physical and mental health concerns, including:

  • Eye strain – pain and discomfort from viewing a digital screen resulting in burning, itching, blurred vision, eye fatigue and headaches
  • Neck pain – discomfort resulting from looking down at cell phone or tablet for extended periods
  • Illness – touch screens contain surprisingly high rates of germs, including E. coli bacteria, MRSA and others, which can increase likelihood of germ-borne illnesses and related complications
  • Car accidents – texting and driving is responsible for 28% of car accidents (1.6 million per year)
  • Sleep disturbances – cell phone addiction can lead to increased fatigue and sleep disorders
  • Anxiety and depression – a recent study has linked excessive use of a cell phone to depression and anxiety
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – repetitive habits for checking email, messages, etc. can give rise to OCD

Cell phone use, even extensive use, doesn’t necessarily mean you are addicted. But if your habits are producing symptoms or results like those above, it could indicate a more serious issue.

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