An Adult Addiction

By Amreen Pathan

I keep you up all night.

I watch you as you sleep and wake and eat and work.

It is not uncommon for you to lose me constantly and then obsess about finding me again.

Guessed what I am yet?

No? Let me give you more.

I isolate you.

I encourage you to impulse buy.

I fuel your anxiety and

witness your sense of narcissism fly.





Guessed what I am now?

Yes – you are right. Your mobile phone.

I will not ask you if you recognise any of the above triggers because that would be in vain. What I will ask though is how many of the triggers above do you recognise?

The American Psychiatric Association describes addiction as an ‘uncontrolled use of a substance despite harmful consequence.’

Let’s check this definition against our mobile phone usage.

Are we unable to refrain from checking our phones as soon as we are alerted to (and sometimes, even without being alerted to) a notification or a message? Uncontrolled? Check. Are we aware of all the detrimental effects of using a mobile phone? Harmful consequence? Check.

And yet, despite being aware of all the bad associated with mobile phones, our consumption of them wavers not. Addiction? Check.

Take a peek at these statistics published here:

  • 71% of smartphone users usually sleep with or next to their mobile phone.
  • The average smartphone owner unlocks their phone 150 times a day.
  • 20% of people would rather go without shoes for a week than take a break from the their phone.
  • Smartphones and depression are correlated and using them for longer intervals, changes brain chemistry.

As part of some research in behaviour management, I was recently looking into B. F. Skinner’s reward and reinforcement theory is also loosely known as operant conditioning. Quite simply, if there is an expected or enjoyable occurrence (be this intrinsic or extrinsic) after engaging in a behaviour, one is likely to repeat this behaviour.

Similarly, when a user checks their phone as and when warranted, the satisfaction and gratification that is felt works as a reinforcer for the behaviour of engaging with one’s phone. The more one engages with their phone, the greater the satisfaction. This means that the user is then obliged to continue using their phone.

This is where it gets dirtier and tolerance enters the mix. When a drug (phone in this case) is used repeatedly, larger and larger doses must be taken to produce the same effect. Tolerance has now built up so more and more usage is required for minimal pleasure.

What is more is that not every notification, message, social media post will deliver the pleasure the brain is looking for. But brains are wired to seek out these rewards and so a user is willing to filter through a lot of mind-numbing rubbish (and time) to get there. Sometimes, a user will even construct their own reward, which we might recognise as posting on social media or reaching out virtually to family and friends.  

There’s actually a name for smartphone addiction: nomophobia (the fear of being without a mobile phone). The realisation I have though is that it’s not the phone that we are addicted to; it’s the apps, games, and societies that the phone connect us to. This is why older generations acquainted only with ‘dumb phones’ (yes the name made me giggle too!) never found themselves addicts of this dark device.

According to the author of this article, phone usage does not ‘create some neurological response [like] chronic addiction [as] there are… no withdrawal symptoms associated with phone usage.’

Apparently, it’s just a matter of fixing a bad habit and if that is the case, then it’s all about building a healthy relationship with one’s phone.

Whilst it may be naïve to argue a lack of withdrawal symptoms – a growing body of research suggests that physiological withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, increased heart rate and blood pressure, also exist for behavioural addictions – I appreciate the classification of phone usage as a bad habit. This is because bad habits can be fixed.


  1. Switch to a traditional alarm clock and keep the mobile phone away from the bedroom. Contrary to popular belief, your phone is not your guard dog!
  2. Keep meal times a phone-free zone.
  3. Turn off notifications.
  4. Track screen time using the many apps like Freedom, Moment, ZenScreen.
  5. Engage in an activity that you like that does not involve using your phone.
  6. Commit to phone free days.
  7. Change your phone setting to grayscale, which makes the graphics, looks less inviting.
  8. Don’t make your phone the first thing you interact with as soon as you awake.
  9. Cull your social media and be ruthless. Only follow those that inspire.
  10. Create boundaries. During specific activities like walking, working or reading, commit to them and don’t involve your phone.

Believe it or not, life exists beyond our phones. Let’s live them to the fullest.

Signing off,

A fellow Nomophobe on her way to recovery.

#mobiles #addictions #nomophone

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