Find yourself lost in your phone for more hours of the day than you’d like to admit? Worried that your phone use is starting to create problems in other parts of your life? New studies are showing that a link with ADHD could be behind some cases of smartphone addiction.
Many of us are never more than an arm’s length from our phone. It is the first thing we reach for in the morning, and the last thing we put down at night, connecting us to friends, family and the world around us at a constant, rapid pace. This endless connectivity isn’t without its downsides – in fact, excessive smartphone use has been linked to a higher risk of depression and anxiety, and some users have even displayed signs of addiction to their phones.
New studies are suggesting that there is also a link between ADHD symptoms and smartphone addiction. If you have noticed that your phone habits are consuming more of your time – and perhaps cutting into your sleep schedule or quality time with loved ones – it is possible an underlying mental health issue could be behind it.
What Causes Smartphone Addiction?
The close proximity of a device that stimulates our brains in the way that smartphones do is one simple factor that can contribute to the potential for misuse and addiction. However, there are also other underlying issues that can drive unhealthy use of our phones, such as:
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
People with these conditions have a higher potential to use phones as a way to cope with symptoms and distract themselves from negative feelings. For those with ADHD, the instant gratification and constant stimulation offered by smartphones can feed into the development of an addiction. One study found that people with ADHD were nine times more likely to develop a smartphone addiction than those without it.
Smartphone Addiction and ADHD
While frequent phone use itself does not cause ADHD, it may lead to the development of ADHD-like symptoms for those who do not have ADHD, or worsen symptoms for those who do. A recent study conducted by the University of Southern California found that children who were heavy phone users were twice as likely to show symptoms of ADHD.
Another study found that the specific symptom of inattention was a key predictor of the potential for smartphone addiction, though none of the participants in the study had ever been formally diagnosed with an attention-deficit disorder. Researcher and study leader Tuba Aydin explained to Bournemouth University, “…People need to be aware that just because you do not have ADHD, it does not mean that you cannot have symptoms of the condition, and you could still be vulnerable to technology addiction at some point in the future.”
What are symptoms of ADHD?
Symptoms of ADHD may include:
- Challenges in focusing
- Difficulty in making or following through on plans
- Challenges in coping with stress
- Disorganisation and problems prioritising tasks
What Does Smartphone Addiction Look Like?
With all the work we do on our phones, it can be hard to separate a busy online life from a smartphone addiction. Many of us regularly check for messages, scroll through social media, read the news on our phones, and track or manage various details through selected apps. So, just how much use is too much?
1. Compulsive use of your phone
It is as if there is a timer in your brain set to remind you to check your phone, and the intervals at which it goes off are getting shorter and shorter. You are compelled to have a glance at it at pretty much any time during the day – whenever you feel bored, bathroom breaks, during a special event, and even while in conversation with someone else. It is causing you to lose time and focus, but somehow you can’t seem to stop doing it.
2. Anxiety over your phone
Do you feel a sense of dread or panic if you have left your phone at home, or your battery has died and you are somehow without a way to charge it? Increased reliance on our phones for information and connection can make a sudden break from it very uncomfortable, particularly if you’ve formed a dependence.
3. Increased fear of missing out
Many people like to “be in the loop,” whether it’s staying up-to-date on news or social happenings, or being included in a group of friends or families. Smartphones and social media platforms bring a new potential for connectedness – but can also heighten our need for external validation and intensify our comparison of ourselves to others. This can drive increased phone use, and fuel anxiety.
4. Loss of Time
In this modern world, there are few of us who don’t get sucked down an internet or social media rabbit hole from time to time. However, if you are routinely losing hours to smartphone use, isolating yourself in order to spend more time on your phone, or facing criticism from friends or family about your phone use, these are strong indicators of unhealthy phone habits.
5. Experiencing Withdrawal When Going Without Your Phone
People who have developed a psychological dependency on their phones will actually experience symptoms of withdrawal when they stop using it, which can include things like:
- Irritability and anxiety
- Difficulty concentrating
- Disturbed sleep
- Cravings for the phone
How to Overcome Smartphone Addiction
If you have identified that your smartphone use is unhealthy, there are several strategies that you can use to help change your behaviour.
1. Set limits for your phone use
We are often unaware of just how much we are checking our phones, so a good way to start knowing how to limit your time on the phone is by tracking your use for a few days. Try keeping a log of each time you use your phone, and how you are using it. While you might not be able to capture every single moment, this exercise will likely give you a better picture of when and how you are engaged with your phone.
Once you have this information, consider what you can start consolidating or cutting out. Try to limit your phone checks throughout the day – start with checking every 15 minutes, and work your way up from there. Reserve specific times for scrolling and stick to them – set a timer if you need to. To curb your phone use during social outings, think about trying phone stacking – each person stacks their phone on a corner of the table, and if someone checks it during the meal, they have to pick up the tab.
2. Delete social media apps
Deleting social media apps from your phone doesn’t mean giving up these platforms entirely. For many people, confining social media app use to their computers can help significantly reduce compulsive checking and time spent on their phones.
3. Replace boredom with other healthy habits
Boredom and tiredness tend to drive a lot of mindless and time-consuming phone use. Instead of reaching for your phone, try stretching, journaling, going for a walk, making a healthy snack – anything that doesn’t involve a screen. Building in more healthy activities during the day will help you combat bad phone habits, and broaden your coping mechanisms for stress.
4. Turn off your phone
For many people, the simple practice of shutting down their phones can be a turning point in regaining control over their use. Consider when you might be able to shut off your phone for a while, especially during times like while exercising, talking with others, or before bed. Ensuring that there is space between you and your phone at bedtime is essential in developing healthier phone use habits and getting enough sleep.
5. Seek out professional support
If you’re finding it difficult to start or maintain better phone use habits on your own, don’t despair. Any addiction is extremely difficult to overcome without outside support, and luckily there are a growing number of mental health experts who can help identify underlying issues like ADHD that may be making it difficult to change your relationship with your phone. Talking with a therapist will allow you to address the root causes of your smartphone addiction, learn new ways to cope with stress, and shift problematic patterns of thought or behaviour in order to move past your addiction.
Prioritising Your Mental Health at The Dawn Thailand
The Dawn Wellness Centre and Rehab Thailand offers professional, compassionate, residential treatment for people who want to overcome addiction and manage their mental health conditions. Our team has years of experience working with dual diagnosis clients, including those with ADHD who also have an addiction.
Our holistic treatment approach combines the most effective psychotherapies with proven wellness practices like meditation, yoga, and fitness training to promote a healthy, active mind-body connection. We work with each patient to develop a customized treatment plan based specifically on your unique needs, and in response to the root causes of your condition.
Call us today to learn more about our treatment approach, and how we can help you find a healthier way forward.