“Would you say that someone who couldn’t go a day without consuming alcohol had a problem? Could you go a day without your phone?” Dr. David Greenfield, founder of The Center for Internet and Technology Addiction, poses a simple question that clearly infers that smartphone addiction is just as serious as any other form.
It’s not uncommon to look up and feel as though you’re living in a sea of smartphones, with most people making more eye contact with phone screens than with each other. From compulsively checking social media and emails to mindlessly scrolling to pass time, chances are you probably spend a good part of your day on your smartphone. What we don’t realize, however, is that all the time spent with our phone could actually turn into a potential health hazard.
At what point does constantly checking your phone turn into an actual problem? “The main thing that indicates a smartphone addiction issue is when it starts to change your social relationships, work or school performance and health status,” Dr. David Greenfield says. Do you get uncomfortable when you don’t have access to your phone? Do you use it to alter your mood or to relax? If you have to go without your phone, do you feel as if you’re going through withdrawal? These are all major issues to look out for according to Dr. Greenfield, who says that 60% of people admit to feeling uncomfortable and awkward without their smartphone. Checking your phone during meetings, dinner and family time can cause you to miss out on those important, face to face interactions. The more and more we live our lives through a phone screen, the less we make an effort to socialize with others.
As one of the first to recognize technology and internet addiction, Dr. Greenfield has been tracking the problem since the late 1990s. The impact of social media along with the youth culture’s obsession with sharing the minutiae of their lives online has only worsened the smartphone addiction epidemic. “People feel that they don’t exist unless what they’re doing is being broadcasted to the world. If they don’t record it and get comments or likes then it didn’t happen or wasn’t justified,” Dr. Greenfield says regarding our obsession with constantly being with our phone. If you wear a great dress to a beautiful location but didn’t Instagram it, did you ever even really wear it?
While you may not think there is a serious issue with your attachment to a smartphone, there are several mental and physical health hazards associated with excessive phone usage. Increased anxiety, irritability and fear of isolation or discomfort are common side effects of smartphone addiction. Using your phone too much also has the ability to change your neurochemistry by elevating your levels of dopamine, which Dr. Greenfield refers to as “digitally drugging your brain.” Nomophobia, which is the fear of being away from your phone, is another mental health hazard that arises. A mental fear of not being able to share what you are doing with others, in addition to a fear of missing out on what others are doing (commonly referred to as FOMO) are other phobias that can develop with phone addiction.
So how much time is a healthy amount to be spending on your phone each day? Unfortunately, there is no precise number, but generally the rule of thumb is a max of 2 hours per day spent on digital media, says Dr. Greenfield. If you’re spending more time than that on a smartphone or tablet, it may be time to scale back and try a digital diet.
How To Cut Back On Your Smartphone Addiction:
1) First, become aware of how much time you really spend on your phone per day. Download an app that tracks your phone usage (Moment is available for $4.99) to diagnose your digital diet. The app tracks your usage throughout the day to see how much time you actually spend with your smartphone each day—alarms then alert you when you’re spending too much time on your phone.
2) Turn your phone off. Whether it’s while you sleep or even just for 1-2 hours a night, schedule away time to unplug.
3) Don’t sleep with your phone under your pillow or in your bed.
4) Never eat a meal with your phone at the table.
5) When you are going out to a restaurant, leave your phone at home. Enjoy some real human interaction and a nice meal out. (If you just panicked about not being able to Instagram your brunch then yes, you have a smartphone addiction problem.)
6) Let friends, co-workers, or family members know you’re going offline and will be unavailable.
7) Put your phone away in another room where you can’t see it to get some time away. Unplug, unplug, unplug!
Are you addicted to your smartphone? Take The Center For Internet and Technology Addiction’s phone abuse test at
Dr. David Greenfield is the founder of The Center for Internet and Technology Addiction and Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at The University of Connecticut School of Medicine.