Phone addiction is the compulsive and harmful overuse of smartphones, mobile apps, or other mobile devices. It can involve scrolling endlessly on social media apps and compulsively checking text messages to the point where our use of smartphones disrupts our daily life. As a subset of internet and technology addiction, a cell phone addiction can lead to changes in the brain that over time compromise our ability to focus, prioritize, regulate our mood, and relate to others.
Those of us who have come to identify as phone addicts experienced several common symptoms. We used our phones for longer than we intended, despite attempts to control or cut back our use. Even when we were aware of the consequences and wanted to stop, we were unable to do so. When we weren’t using our iPhones or our devices were not near us, we experienced distraction, anxiety, and irritability. We were unable to enjoy and be present in our offline lives. We used our phones to alter our moods and escape our problems. Our addiction jeopardized our relationships, educational pursuits, and career opportunities. We felt shame and demoralization about our use of our phone.
When we first noticed these troubling experiences, we began to acknowledge that something wasn’t right. But many of us still questioned whether we really had an addiction. For those of us still wondering, the following questions may help us better understand whether there are signs of phone addiction in our lives.
Phone Addiction Questionnaire:
- Do I ever go on my phone to quickly check something and then discover that hours have passed?
- Do I ever swear off or set time limits around my phone or screen time, and then break my commitments?
- Do I have binges on my mobile devices that last all day or late into the night?
- Do I turn to my phone whenever I have a free moment?
- Does excessive smartphone use lead me to neglect my personal hygiene, nutritional needs, or physical health?
- Do I feel isolated, emotionally absent, distracted, or anxious when I’m not on my phone or I’m away from my devices?
- Does my smartphone usage contribute to conflict or avoidance in personal relationships?
- Has my cell phone use jeopardized my studies, finances, or career?
- Do I hide or lie about the amount of time I spend on my phone or the kinds of digital content I consume on it?
- Do I feel guilt or shame around my use of my phone?
Nobody should have to suffer due to their phone use. If you’ve answered yes to several of the above questions, we encourage you to consider getting support.
What are the effects of phone addiction?
Phone addiction is a subset of internet addiction disorder (IAD), which was first investigated by the psychologist Dr. Kimberly S. Young, who published the original diagnostic criteria for this mental health disorder in 1998. Today there is still an open discussion in the scientific community regarding how to define, qualify, and study the various forms of internet addiction, and the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5-TR) has begun to acknowledge the severity of this class of addictions through its inclusion of internet gaming disorder. There is widespread consensus from both researchers and clinicians that the problematic and compulsive overuse of the internet, digital media, and mobile devices has been rising over the past two decades, and that the prevalence of this behavioral addiction is associated with a variety of mental, emotional, physical, interpersonal, and professional problems.
Perhaps most significantly, the dopamine releases triggered by internet and technology addiction have been shown to cause structural changes in the brain very similar to the changes experienced in people with alcohol or drug addictions. These changes lead to impairments in our decision-making, reasoning, reward expectation, executive function, cognitive function, emotional processing, and our working memory. A variety of studies have shown that access to television and video games decreases the amount of pain medication needed by hospital patients.
Of course, the effects of internet and technology addiction are not only reflected in the structure of our brains, but in our daily lives as well. Internet and technology addiction is strongly associated with impulse control disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), anxiety, increased substance use, and depression. In addition to these co-occurring disorders, it’s associated with a higher risk of cardiometabolic disease, lower sleep quality, increased fatigue, and symptoms of insomnia, all of which are correlated to a higher mortality rate. Perhaps most tragically of all, individuals with internet and technology addiction have much higher rates of suicidal ideation, planning, and attempts—roughly three times the average.
These findings are cause for serious concern. While some might minimize the impact of internet and technology addiction in comparison to chemical substances, the truth is that internet and technology addiction changes our brains in a manner similar to the effects produced by an addiction to alcohol, heroin, or other drugs.
Who is at risk for phone addiction?
Phone addiction is a condition that can affect people of all ages, from children and adolescents to those later in life. Our meetings include young adults, college students, working professionals, parents, and retirees. Even people with flip phones can become addicted to checking their messages or playing games. In fact, the fear of being without our phones is so common that people have coined a word for it: nomophobia (‘NO MObile PHone PhoBIA’).
While the risk factors are varied, internet addiction does not discriminate based on age, educational level, socio-economic status, geography, race, or ethnicity. Its negative effects impact not only the addict themselves, but also their family members and loved ones. By damaging our potential, self-esteem, and quality of life, excessive use of our phones can impair our lives. Additionally, by contributing to depression and suicidal tendencies, our addiction can be life-threatening. Regardless of our background, if our compulsive phone use is causing us to experience distress or difficulties, there are actions we can take to improve our situation and find relief.
A Solution for Smartphone Addiction
While internet and technology addiction has only begun to receive attention in recent years, the disease of addiction is not new. Millions of people have found sustainable, long-term freedom from their addictive behaviors through mutual aid support groups modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous. A recent systematic review conducted by Stanford public health researchers determined that participation in Alcoholics Anonymous was nearly always found to be more effective than other therapies in achieving continuous abstinence from alcoholism. The AA model has been successfully adapted to help people suffering from a variety of addictions, including narcotics, marijuana, nicotine, sex, pornography, and food, among others.
In continuation of this tradition, Internet and Technology Addicts Anonymous applies the proven model of AA to help those suffering from a phone addiction find long-term freedom from their self-destructive behaviors. We share our experience, strength, and hope with each other through group meetings and one-on-one relationships, and we work a recovery program based on the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. Our meetings are free and anonymous, and we welcome anyone who thinks they may benefit from support to visit one of our meetings.
Members Share Their Experiences Finding Recovery in ITAA
In my phone addiction, I was obsessed with downloading more time-sucking games onto my phone, joining and unmuting more Discord servers so that I would get constant notifications, reading a ton of serialized manga every day, binging YouTube every morning before I got out of bed, and finding literally any other excuse to stare at a screen so that I wouldn’t have to look myself in the eyes and see the problems behind them.
When I started attending ITAA meetings, it was to satisfy my parents. They were rightfully worried about the fact that I would get up every day past 2 pm, and that I couldn’t go longer than 15 seconds without looking at a screen. As I attended more meetings and sought further help with my problem, I came to realize that it was an addiction, that I was powerless over it, and that the fear I felt around having to face this insurmountable problem couldn’t compare to the love and compassion of my family, my therapist, my Higher Power (which I am still getting to know), and the community of ITAA, all of whom help me face my addiction one day at a time.
ITAA has helped me recover from phone addiction by providing a framework of support and recovery through the 12 Steps and Traditions. It’s a supportive community whose purpose is to find freedom from addiction.
I used to sit on my phone scrolling the news all evening. Thanks to ITAA, I am now pursuing my dreams of becoming a writer. I spend my evenings doing social activities and things like yoga that actually help me feel rested, and I no longer feel like a zombie tethered to my phone. I am so grateful to have the community of ITAA.
Our program has helped countless people find long-term freedom from internet and technology addiction. For more personal stories, we encourage you to read and listen to the recovery stories on our website.
How to Recover From Smartphone Addiction
While there is no permanent or quick cure for phone addiction, there are concrete actions we can take to recover from our compulsive behaviors and restore our emotional and mental wellbeing. We have found the following actions to be of significant help in finding long-term, sustainable freedom from our compulsive and problematic use of phones.
- Attend daily meetings. In addition to a growing number of face-to-face meetings around the world, ITAA has daily online meetings where our global fellowship meets to share experience, strength and hope with each other. We are encouraged to try attending six meetings in a short time frame to help decide whether ITAA may be helpful to us.
- Make daily outreach calls. Our dependence on our phones drew us into isolation and self-reliance. As we begin to recover, we learn that we can trust others and be vulnerable. Calling other members outside of meetings helps us stay connected, supported, and sober, and it gives us an opportunity to share in greater detail than we might during a meeting.
- Abstain. With the help of other members in recovery, we identify and abstain from the specific addictive behaviors which are causing the greatest difficulties in our lives. We recognize that this is a process that unfolds over time, and we make use of the support available to us in ITAA to remain sober one day at a time.
- Learn more about the recovery process. Our website has many resources about the nature of our addiction and how we might best chart our recovery journey, navigate withdrawal symptoms, and respond to cravings. In addition, there’s a rich body of literature from other 12 Step programs that we can lean on to better inform our healing process and to learn more about the time-tested methods which have helped millions of other addicts recover.
- Find a sponsor and work the steps. We have benefitted from asking somebody we resonate with to sponsor us and working the Twelve Steps together with them, which is the vital and transformative basis of our long-term recovery from our addiction. A great way to connect with potential sponsors is to make outreach calls with other members who are sober and working the Steps.
- Make use of outside help. Many members supplement their recovery with a variety of resources beyond ITAA, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), psychotherapy, group therapy, psychiatry, inpatient or outpatient addiction treatment centers, other 12 Step fellowships, spiritual counsel, or other mental health wellness resources. Some members have found it helpful to engage in a ‘digital detox’ for a period of time to help kickstart their recovery. While we do not endorse any one treatment option or intervention in particular, we encourage all members to avail themselves of any outside help that can support them in their recovery journey. A healthcare or mental health professional may be able to give advice tailored to your situation.
What Does Sobriety From Smartphone Addiction Look Like?
Sobriety in ITAA is a process of discovery that looks different for each of us. As part of this process, we identify and abstain from specific behaviors which trigger our addiction. We have also found it beneficial to establish a positive vision for our internet and technology use. For example, we may practice using technology purposefully, minimally, or only as necessary. We might step away from our devices entirely for a few hours or a few days, letting go of any fear of missing out (fomo) or feelings of anxiety. Instead, we can prioritize real life activities with family and friends.
We respect each member’s dignity to discover their own path to recovery from excessive cell phone usage, and we work with other experienced members to help define what sobriety means for each of us as individuals. As part of this process, we lean on meetings and phone calls to help maintain our sobriety commitments. Rather than using our phone to numb our emotions, we seek to use technology as a tool for meeting our goals, living in alignment with our values, and developing flourishing lives.
Types of Internet Addiction
While we all suffer from a common disease, it expresses itself in different ways for each of us. The following are some common compulsive internet and technology behaviors that may also be relevant for compulsive smartphone users. It’s important to keep in mind that this list is neither comprehensive nor prescriptive—it is essential to identify our own personal compulsive or unnecessary internet and technology behaviors with the help of experienced, sober members.
- Social media addiction is the addictive use of social media platforms, messaging apps, newsfeeds, discussion forums, chat rooms, and online communities. Addictive social networking use can include Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, Snapchat, Discord, Reddit, Pinterest, and others.
- Streaming addiction is the compulsive and addictive use of any streaming platforms or content. This includes online videos, movies, television, podcasts, and platforms such as YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Twitch, or TikTok.
- Video game addiction refers to obsessive, unhealthy, or excessive use of video games, as well as any other digital or online games. This includes computer games, console games, phone games, and social media games.
- Porn addiction is the addictive consumption of digital erotic content and can also entail other unhealthy digital sexual behaviors. This can include pornographic videos, images, or writing, sexually arousing imagery, anonymous chat rooms, and dating apps.
- Information Addiction is an addictive and unhealthy relationship to researching and consuming information. This can include an addiction to the news, scrolling social media feeds, online shopping, online encyclopedias, and compulsive online research such as product or health research.
Internet and Technology Addicts Anonymous is a Twelve-Step fellowship based on the principles pioneered by Alcoholics Anonymous. Our organization is entirely volunteer-based and self-supporting. The only requirement to participate in ITAA is a desire to stop using internet and technology compulsively.
We have no opinions on outside issues, and we neither condemn nor condone any particular technology. We are not affiliated with any political agenda, religious movement, or outside interests. Our single purpose is to abstain from compulsive internet and technology use and to help others find freedom from this addiction. ITAA is a non-profit corporation incorporated in the state of Colorado, and we are currently in the process of applying for US federal tax-exempt status.
Page last updated on September 3, 2023