Excessive Smartphone Use: Do I Have an Addiction?

Woman Researching Substance Abuse Treatment Options for Parolees After Prison On Her Smartphone

Contributed by Staff of Timberline Knolls

Take a good look around; you will likely observe that most people are using a smartphone in some capacity. It is not uncommon to see that people are looking downward on their smartphone screens, mindlessly scrolling while out at restaurants, when waiting for transportation, sitting in class, at a work desk, or even while driving.

According to Pew Research Center, just over three-quarters of Americans (77%) own a smartphone, with 92% of younger adults (18-29 year-olds) owning one [1]. Digital technology, in the form of smartphones, has revolutionized the way in which we communicate, relate to others, conduct business, learn, and more.

When Smartphone Use Becomes Excessive

With the sharp uptick in ownership of smartphone use among various population groups, the behaviors associated with this technology are also being questioned. There comes a point where smartphone use becomes excessive, even detrimental to daily activities that contribute to a normal, healthy life.

While “technology addiction” is not a formal mental diagnosis, this umbrella term is used to describe behaviors associated with the excessive smartphone usage, including texting, social media, online shopping, online gaming, and more.

Woman with smartphone and coffee

New research recently released from the Binghamton University-State University of New York has demonstrated how excessive smartphone use can lead to problematic behaviors, particularly among females, who are especially susceptible to addiction [2].

In a survey of 182 college students, responses on smartphone usage was classified on a range, from thoughtful (minimal usage) to fanatic/addict. Twelve percent of the college students surveyed identified as “fanatics” and also exhibited problematic issues in their personal life, relationships and workplace due to a compulsive need to utilize their smartphones [2].

Other problematic behaviors and signs identified among the students who identified as “fanatics” and “addicts” of smartphones included social isolation, impulsivity, social anxiety, low self-esteem, and depression.

Assistant Professor and researcher, Isaac Vaghefi, noted, “Our smartphones have turned into a tool that provides short, quick, immediate satisfaction, which is very triggering. Our neurons get fired and dopamine is being released, and over time this makes us acquire a desire for quick feedback and immediate satisfaction [2].”

As technology continues to rapidly advance, excessive smartphone use can become problematic for many individuals, particularly those who may have other risk factors for addictive behaviors.

Recognizing Signs of Excessive Smartphone Use

The reality is that technology has dramatically changed the way in which we interact with others and deal with our emotions. Finding validation online through “likes” and “shares” has quickly become more significant than actually taking the time to interact with real human beings and engage in our relationships.

Girl troubled with Excessive Smartphone Use

Having online access through a portable device that can literally be taken everywhere also has the potential to change the way in which we feel about ourselves and others. Surveys have found that Americans look at their smartphones more than 9 billion times per day, and the time/effort involved with smartphone use is not without pros and cons [3].

If you find yourself compulsively checking your phone or feel unable to take a break from smartphone use, it may be helpful to examine your behaviors more closely. The time that you are engaging in your smartphone might mean time that is sacrificed from important relationships, work productivity, and more.

Investing excessive time with smartphone use may inadvertently influence behavioral/mood changes as well. Signs that may indicate problematic smartphone behaviors include:

  • Feeling anxious if you don’t have access to your smartphone
  • Tuning out reality and necessary responsibilities in favor for what is happening virtually on your smartphone
  • Utilizing your smartphone as a means of comfort, escape, or relief, especially from overwhelming emotions
  • Constantly checking your smartphone, even if you aren’t receiving notifications

If you find yourself dealing with any of these behaviors listed above, it may be time to check in with an addiction specialist to get professional help.

Many individuals may be unaware of how problematic their smartphone use has become until consequences become more detrimental, including the loss of a job, marital issues, emotional/physical health complications, and more.

Don’t let the reality of your life pass you by while you’re engaging in your smartphone, and reach out for help if you are struggling with finding a balance.


[1]: Pew Research Center, “Record Shares of Americans Now Own Smartphones, Have Home Broadband”, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/01/12/evolution-of-technology/
[2]: Isaac Vaghefi et al, A typology of user liability to IT addiction, Information Systems Journal (2017). DOI: 10.1111/isj.12098
[3]: “America’s Smartphone Addiction is Now an Epidemic”, https://www.forbes.com/sites/cartoonoftheday/2017/01/13/americas-smartphone-addiction-is-now-an-epidemic/#2298c0d75633

Thank you to Timberline Knolls for providing this article.

Timberline Knolls is a leading residential treatment center for women and adolescent girls, ages 12 and older, with eating disorders, substance abuse, trauma, mood and co-occurring disorders. Located in suburban Chicago, residents receive excellent clinical care from a highly trained professional staff on a picturesque 43-acre wooded campus. An adult partial hospitalization program (PHP) is also available in nearby Orland Park, Ill., for women to step down or direct admit. For more information on Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center, call 630-755-5173. We are also on Facebook – Timberline Knolls, LinkedIn – Timberline Knolls and Twitter – @TimberlineToday.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from multiple physical, emotional, environmental, and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on April 28, 2017
Reviewed and Updated by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on January 12, 2021
Published on AddictionHope.com

About Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC

Jacquelyn Ekern founded Addiction Hope in January, 2013, after experiencing years of inquiries for addiction help by visitors to our well regarded sister site, Eating Disorder Hope. Many of the eating disorder sufferers that contact Eating Disorder Hope also had a co-occurring issue of addiction to alcohol, drugs, and process addictions.