Are we addicted to our phones?

CBS4 This Morning

INDIANAPOLIS— “Phone addiction” has long been a criticism in the smartphone age.

Almost everywhere you turn, you’re able to see people being glued to their phones or devices. And now, once again, the question of “has it become a true addiction?” is being raised.

According to Dr. Anna Lembke, Professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University, that answer is, “Yes.”

Lembke contends our phones have essentially made us dopamine addicts. (Dopamine is a chemical in our brains that essentially acts as our reward system and makes us feel good. When we interact with our devices, Lembke says our brains receive little hits of dopamine, causing us to seek out more.

During a conversation with CBS4, Kendra Thomas, a University of Indianapolis assistant professor of psychology, adds that one of the things that makes it so addicting is that users often don’t know when that “hit of dopamine” or “reward” is coming. Leading those that use the devices to constantly “seek out more.”

“Not knowing when it’s going to come makes you always want to check that notification. I wonder what it is, most the time it’s nothing, but sometimes, it brings the surge of emotions and that variability and reward system is likely what makes it so addicting. And if you almost frame addiction like learning, it’s such a learned behavior that you will always go back to it,” she said.

Thomas adds that another problem is generally, people don’t even know they have an addiction. Unlike actual substance addiction our “self-control system” is still working, it’s simply not being accessed. 

There’s also the “all or nothing” fallacy. Because our phones and devices also contain things necessary for our everyday lives, people often convince themselves there’s no way they can separate from them.

“There’s really creative categories and setting on your phone where you can just pick two or three people and have just their calls go through, or change your notifications so you only get a buzz or a ding on this specific app that’s related to my child’s daycare or my significant others text. I think we fall into this category of thinking it’s all or nothing when maybe you can put your phone on full volume in another room.” 

Thomas says if you think you may be addicted to your device, you may want to consider a self-audit. Thomas says try putting your phone away for a few hours, then take stock of how it makes you feel. Does it make you feel restless? Irritable? Free, even? She adds If you find yourself having a problem, you might have to make an adjustment or two. 

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