Cell Phone Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, And Treatment

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D. on July 5, 2021

Cell phone addiction is a nonmedical term used to describe a pattern of excessive phone use that can result in significant impairment or distress. People with this issue may also struggle with other types of addictions, such as drug or alcohol addiction.

Cell Phone Addiction

According to Pew Research Center, 97 percent of Americans own a cell phone. Mobile phones, particularly smartphones, have become for many an essential tool for daily life.

Unfortunately, for some people, cell phone use can become a compulsive habit that can lead to excessive use, negative health consequences, and interference with general way of life.

Find out more about the causes and treatment options for behavioral addictions

What Is Cell Phone Addiction?

Cell phone addiction, also known as smartphone addiction, is a nonclinical term used to describe problematic phone use, or excessive phone use that interferes with health or daily life.

According to some research, an estimated 10 to 20 percent of people report feeling addicted to their phones, and experiencing distress or impairment as a result.

Terms related to cell phone addiction include:

  • compulsive phone use: when a person feels compelled to use their cell phone in excess
  • nomophobia: fear of going without your phone
  • textaphrenia: fear of being unable to receive or send texts

Is Cell Phone Addiction Real?

The existence of cell phone addiction is a topic that has been hotly debated by mental health and addiction experts.

Cell phone addiction is not currently recognized as a type of disorder or addiction. However, there are reports of compulsive cell phone use, particularly with smartphones.

Cell phone addiction is a colloquial term used to describe problematic phone use, compulsive phone use, or a type of technological addiction.

Signs And Symptoms Of Smartphone Addiction

Being addicted to a cell phone is not the same as using it very often.

People who have an addiction—such as addiction to alcohol or drugs—experience significant distress as a result of their behavior, and generally feel unable to control or limit it.

You might have a cell phone problem if you:

  • spend the majority of time on your phone (outside of work or academic use)
  • experience significant distress or impairment as a result of your phone use
  • have unsuccessfully tried to limit phone use
  • neglect friends, family, and other relationships due to phone use
  • frequently feel your phone alerting you when it’s not (i.e. phantom vibrations)
  • continue to use your phone in excess despite negative effects on health, work, academic performance, or relationships
  • feel unable to reduce or control phone use
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Cell Phone Addiction And Mental Health

Research shows that problematic phone use can often co-occur with various mental health concerns, including anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and stress.

People who have underlying mental health issues may use their smartphone as a sort of coping tool, to numb, escape, or manage mental health symptoms.

This is common with substance addictions and behavioral addictions. With co-occurring mental health concerns, it may be helpful to seek mental health counseling or psychiatric services.

Cell Phone Addiction And Substance Abuse

Substance abuse, formally diagnosed as substance use disorders, affects more than 20 million Americans.

It’s not uncommon for people with a drug or drinking problem to also have a behavioral addiction, including an addiction to gambling, the internet, or technologies like smartphones.

Is Cell Phone Addiction Like Drug Addiction?

Behavioral addictions, also known as process addictions, are often influenced by biological, environmental, and interpersonal vulnerabilities—similar to drug and alcohol addiction.

Substances like drugs or alcohol can affect the brain in ways that can reinforce repetitive substance use, even to the detriment of a person’s health, relationships, and way of life.

Some research shows that cell phones may affect the brain in similar ways, by boosting “feel good” hormones like dopamine.

Unlike drug addiction, excessive phone use is unlikely to cause physical dependence or withdrawal symptoms such as seizures, vomiting, or heart complications with stopped use.

Risk Factors For Cell Phone Addiction

Research has found that some people, particularly teens and young adults, may be at a higher risk of developing a cell phone addiction than others.

Cell phone addiction is more common in people with:

  • low self-esteem
  • high impulsivity
  • extraversion
  • anxiety
  • depression

Effects Of Cell Phone Addiction

Becoming addicted to an object or behavior can have harmful consequences. If a person is experiencing consequences related to their phone use, this can be a sign of a problem.

Consequences of smartphone addiction might include:

  • depression
  • anxiety
  • low self-esteem
  • social withdrawal
  • difficulty sleeping
  • family conflict (especially with teens)
  • relationship troubles
  • financial problems
  • reduced work or academic performance
  • motor vehicle accidents

Behavioral addictions are often progressive. This means that the consequences of a problematic behavior—such as excessive phone use—may get worse over time.

Excessive phone use may disrupt someone’s social life, their relationships with loved ones, mental health, and potentially cause signs of physical distress, such as headaches or stomach pain—both common signs of stress and anxiety.

Recommended Treatment Options For Cell Phone Addiction

Using a cell phone excessively or compulsively can become a way to escape reality, fill a void, or manage stress or anxiety.

Using a smartphone in this way may indicate an underlying mental health concern, and can be a risk factor for turning to drugs or alcohol to cope.

For these concerns, a doctor may recommend behavioral therapy, mental health counseling, or family therapy for teens and young adults. Self-help groups may also be beneficial.

Dual Diagnosis Rehab For Cell Phone Addiction And Substance Abuse

Substance abuse is a serious health problem that may require additional treatment. When substance abuse co-occurs with another addiction, this may be referred to as a dual diagnosis.

Dual diagnosis is also a term used to describe a type of treatment for people who have two or more mental health and substance use disorders.

Dual diagnosis treatment may involve:

  • detoxification
  • inpatient rehabilitation
  • behavioral therapy
  • motivational interviewing
  • dual diagnosis group therapy
  • medication
  • mindfulness techniques

Dual diagnosis treatment is the most effective way to treat co-occurring mental health and substance use issues. This can help a person heal physically, mentally, and psychologically.

Find Treatment For Cell Phone Addiction Today

If you’re concerned about a loved one’s cell phone or substance use, we may be able to help.

Call our helpline today to learn more about treatment for cell phone addiction and how to find a dual diagnosis program for substance abuse and cell phone addiction.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D. on July 5, 2021

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Plymouth, Massachusetts

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