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Youre probably not addicted to your smartphone — but you lik

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You're probably not 'addicted' to your smartphone — but you likely use it too much

The Conversation

By Andrew Campbell, University of Sydney

Posted February 23, 2018 16:40:51

A woman uses a smartphone.

Photo: The average smartphone user checks their device 85 times a day. (Pixabay.com)

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Map: Australia

The term "addiction" is often bandied about when we think someone spends too much time on something we deem detrimental to their health and wellbeing.

From checking our phones repetitively, to playing with specific apps and texting, the modern culprit is excessive smartphone use.

Worldwide, more than 2 billion people own smartphones and the average user checks their phone 85 times a day.

Obsessively checking our smartphone apps may look like addiction but, for most people, it is reinforced behaviour that could be broken without severe or long-lasting withdrawal effects.

Having said this, a small proportion of people may be more prone to behavioural addictions to smartphone functions such as online gambling, pornography, games and social media.

Clinically speaking, you can't become addicted to a device, but you can develop behavioural addictions to smartphone functions.

What is addiction?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) classifies addiction as a dependence on a substance, such as illicit or prescription drugs, tobacco or alcohol. A person is addicted when they have a physical and behavioural dependence on the substance.

In 2013, the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (known as the "clinician's bible") introduced wider criteria for "behavioural addictions", which doesn't include the physical dependence element.

These are compulsions to engage in a task or act that leads to psychological pleasure.

Behavioural addictions, such as gambling or sex addiction, can cause psychological harm, as well as wider relationship problems with friends, family and colleagues.

Both "substance" and "behavioural" addictions impact the way we process information. Over time, the brain rewires itself to seek out the reward it needs to gain pleasure or relief from stress.

How we use our phones

There's fascinating differences in the way we use our phones, as revealed by the ABC's Science Week survey.

The more an addict seeks a specific reward that triggers both dopamine and other physiological effects (such as stress and pain relief), the more the brain decreases sensitivity to the reward circuits.

To date, smartphone use has not led to mass accounts of severe mental dysfunction. So we're unlikely to all be "addicted" to our smartphones, as we often tell each other.

Rather than addiction, smartphone users more commonly report obsessive behaviour.

Users constantly check their phone, seeking opportunities for a short dopamine reward, or a distraction from boredom or mundane tasks such as travelling on public transport.

Nonetheless, some researchers have yet to rule out the potential for smartphone addiction in people who are at high risk of behaviour addiction.

These people may experience several negative behavioural changes over time, such as anxiety and irritability, as well as extreme distress when they're unable to access their smartphone.


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