What Is Phone Addiction?

Phone addiction is the obsessive use of a smartphone. The behavioral addiction is often dubbed as “nomophobia,” or the fear of being without a mobile device. There are over 3.8 billion smartphone users in the world. Research published by Virgin Mobile discovered that those billions of smartphone users receive 427% more messages and notifications than they did a decade ago. They also send 278% more texts. The rise in phone use seems like a natural necessity for modern life, however, it can also cause concern and negative consequences. The heavy use of these devices has consumers questioning their cellular habits. According to Google Trends, since 2004 searches for “cell phone addiction” have been rising.

Is Your Phone Making You Mentally Ill?

English singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran, 31, made headlines recently after revealing he stopped using a smartphone in 2015, citing mental health struggles. "I got overwhelmed and sad with a phone. I just spent my whole time just in a very low place," said Sheeran on a recent podcast interview. "I got rid of it, and it was like a veil just lifted." Sheeran is not alone in his feelings. Many celebs have opted to downgrade their smartphones or get rid of them completely because the devices were disrupting their daily lives.

It’s a brave move—chucking your smartphone—but if you're a little intimidated by the thought of parting ways with your digital lifeline, experts say you have options—it doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

“This is a complicated issue. It’s not as though if you spend too much time on your phone, your brain will fry and you will become addicted,” says Chris Ferguson Ph.D., professor of psychology at Stetson University located in Central Florida. “There is a lot more to it.”

Science supports that too much screen time can affect your brain, but not in the way you may think. According to a 2020 study, those with smartphone addiction (SPA) displayed “lower gray matter volume in the insula and temporal cortex.” Translation: Having less gray matter in the area of the brain that processes information could lead to a decline in motor skills and is linked to depression. It gets worse: Those with SPA also displayed “reduced resting-state activity of the anterior cingulate cortex.” In human-speak, that means too much time on your phone can lead to anti-social behavior because you might start to have a hard time connecting people's actions with emotions such as fear and sadness.

Smart Phone Addiction: Journals of Clinical Oncology. (2020.) “Structural and functional correlates of smartphone addiction.”