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As smartphones take over the world, you may find yourself asking, “am I addicted to my phone?”
Whenever I tell someone I treat internet addiction, they commonly mention how often young people are using their phones at the exclusion of face to face interaction. They often have a few people in mind or share that they themselves are probably addicted to their phone.
Although it may feel like we are always on our phones these days, the word “addiction” should not be taken lightly.
The key thing I’ve learned in my experience helping people with technological addictions is that the amount of time someone spends on their phone does not necessarily mean they have an addiction.
The distinguishing factor between a healthy and unhealthy relationship to your phone is the amount of control you have over your usage and the impact it has on your life.
You may use your phone often and have a healthy relationship to your phone if you have control over its use and it does not cause disruptions in your life.
If you have an unhealthy relationship to your phone, you often lose control of your usage and it begins to cause disruptions in your daily life.
If you want to find out if you are addicted to your phone, take the quiz below.
*This quiz is based on the Internet Addiction Test (IAT) (K.Young, 1998). Although the IAT is used as a valid psychometric in the internet addiction field, this quiz is not meant to serve as a formal diagnosis.
Let’s take a closer look at each component in the assessment.
Are you preoccupied with your phone?
Beyond simply using your phone frequently, addiction requires you to feel constantly preoccupied with your phone.
This means you often think of your phone when you are not on it, anticipating when you will be able to use it again.
It could also involve frequently checking your phone before you do any activity, and perhaps several times during an activity. This constant fear of missing out leads to an inability to focus for a length of time without feeling the need to check your phone.
Are you using your phone to escape?
Just like an addiction to any substance, an unhealthy relationship to your phone involves using it to escape from difficult thoughts or emotions.
This means you may often turn to your phone to avoid difficult situations. Perhaps it may be a way to avoid social anxiety, or a way to block out uncomfortable feelings rather than dealing with issues directly.
A small bit of escapism may be healthy if used in moderation as a form of entertainment. Unhealthy escapism results in short term relief at a long term cost. Perhaps turning to your phone every time you feel uncomfortable may temporarily reduce the discomfort, but in the long run, it reinforces issues and begins to affect other areas of your life.
Is your phone use affecting your relationships or opportunities?
Just like any addiction, chronic phone use can begin to affect your relationships and other areas of your life.
This may involve people becoming concerned about the amount of time you spend on your phone. You begin to isolate and turn down opportunities to spend time with friends and family. Perhaps you may spend time on your phone at the expense of intimacy in your romantic relationships.
This may also affect other areas of your life as well, limiting opportunities for progress toward valued goals. This is particularly relevant if your phone use is significantly affecting your focus at work.
In addition, if you are losing sleep due to your phone use, you may not be functioning optimally during the day, affecting your mood and cognitive performance.
Are you lying about your phone use?
As is common with any addiction, lying to cover the extent of your use may signal an unhealthy relationship with your phone.
This may involve becoming defensive or secretive about your phone use. Perhaps someone is concerned about the increasing time spent on your phone and decides to voice these concerns. If you begin to feel a sense of disapproval from others, you may feel tempted to hide your usage to prevent future negative reactions.
This can further contribute to isolation, putting an even greater strain on close relationships.
Are you staying on your phone longer than intended?
Like gambling on a slot machine, it is easy to lose track of time while on your phone. Even though your phone has a clock on it, you may often get lost scrolling through endless feeds.
This can often result in late nights surfing, chatting, or scrolling, affecting your sleep. Although this is common, the amount it affects your daily life would determine how much of an issue it is for you.
Do you need to spend increasing amounts of time on your phone?
Just like any substance, tolerance develops with increasing use. When the thrill wears off, increased use is required to achieve the same effect. Eventually, it may not even be satisfying, simply being required to avoid the pain of discontinuing use.
This results in prolonging the time spent on one’s phone over time. Although the amount of time spent on one’s phone can affect other areas of life, it is not an indicator of an unhealthy relationship with your phone on its own.
Do you often make unsuccessful attempts to cut down on your phone use?
Perhaps you’ve recognized you have an unhealthy relationship with your phone and have decided to cut down on your usage. Multiple unsuccessful attempts to control your usage perhaps signals diminished control, an aspect of any addiction.
Gaining back control over your phone use requires more than simply trying harder. It requires seeking support and working through the underlying issues.
Are you using your phone to escape from difficult situations or emotions? What does your phone offer you that is missing in your everyday life? How can you begin confronting difficult situations, working with difficult emotions, and take back a sense of control over your technology use.
Many people think they are addicted to their phones because of the amount of time they spend on them. As discussed, this is not a reliable way to measure addiction.
As the world becomes increasingly virtual, constant use of digital technology is becoming the norm. Rather than looking at what you use, it is helpful to consider how you use it.
Addiction to your phone involves decreased control over your use and negative impacts on other areas of your life.
Specifically, it involves a sense of constant preoccupation, a negative effect on relationships or career opportunities, lying about your usage, using your phone longer than intended, needing to spend increasing amounts of time on your phone, and making several unsuccessful attempts to stop.