Smartphone addiction is similar to other types of substance abuse with the heaviest users being the most depressed, anxious and lonely.

Smartphones may allow us to stay connected, but for some, the constant pings, chimes, vibrations and other alerts from our devices, make it impossible to ignore new emails, texts and images.

How do people become smartphone addicts?

“The behavioural addiction of smartphone use begins forming neurological connections in the brain in ways similar to how opioid addiction is experienced by people taking Oxycontin for pain relief – gradually,” explains San Francisco State University Professor of Health Education, Erik Peper.

In a new study, Prof Peper and Associate Professor of Health Education Richard Harvey argue that overuse of smartphones is just like any other type of substance abuse.

Smartphones make us lonelier

Addiction to social media technology may actually have a negative effect on social connection.

WIN a R 2,000 Woolworths Voucher

Subscribe to our Free Daily All4Women Newsletter to enter

In a survey of 135 San Francisco State students, Prof Peper and Harvey found that students who used their phones the most reported higher levels of feeling isolated, lonely, depressed and anxious.

They believe the loneliness is partly a consequence of replacing face-to-face interaction.

Related: Study: Smartphone addiction creates an imbalance in brain

No time to relax

They also found that those same students almost constantly multitasked while studying, watching other media, eating or attending class.

This constant activity allows little time for bodies and minds to relax and regenerate, says Prof Peper. It also results in “semi-tasking,” where people do two or more tasks at the same time – but half as well as they would have if focused on one task at a time.

Prof Peper and Harvey note that digital addiction is not our fault but a result of the tech industry’s desire to increase corporate profits. “More eyeballs, more clicks, more money,” says Prof Peper.

“The behavioural addiction of smartphone use begins forming neurological connections in the brain in ways similar to how opioid addiction is experienced by people taking Oxycontin for pain relief – gradually” – Prof Erik Peper

 

Push notifications, vibrations and other alerts on our phones and computers make us feel compelled to look at them by triggering the same neural pathways in our brains that once alerted us to imminent danger, such as an attack by a tiger or other large predator.

“But now we are hijacked by those same mechanisms that once protected us and allowed us to survive – for the most trivial pieces of information,” he says.

How to break smartphone addiction

Just as we can train ourselves to eat less sugar, for example, we can train ourselves to be less addicted to our phones and computers.

The first step is recognising that tech companies are manipulating our innate biological responses to danger.

Prof Peper suggests turning off push notifications, only responding to email and social media at specific times and scheduling periods with no interruptions to focus on important tasks.

Two of Prof Peper’s students say they have taken proactive measures to change their patterns of technology use.

Recreation, Parks and Tourism major Khari McKendell closed all of his social media accounts about six months ago because he wanted to make stronger face-to-face connections with people.

“I still call and text people but I want to make sure that a majority of the time I’m talking to my friends in person,” he says.

“We have to become creative and approach technology in a different way that still incorporates the skills we need but doesn’t take away from real-life experience” –  Senior Sierra Hinkle (student)

Senior Sierra Hinkle, a Holistic Health minor, says she has stopped using headphones while out walking in order to be more aware of her surroundings. When she’s out with friends, they all put their phones in the centre of the table, and the first one to touch theirs buys the drinks.

“We have to become creative and approach technology in a different way that still incorporates the skills we need but doesn’t take away from real-life experience,” says Hinkle.

Source: San Francisco State University via www.sciencedaily.com

While All4Women endeavours to ensure health articles are based on scientific research, health articles should not be considered as a replacement for professional medical advice. Should you have concerns related to this content, it is advised that you discuss them with your personal healthcare provider.