SPECIAL REPORT: Cell Phone Addiction

How can you tell if you're addicted or simply overusing?

Most of us spend a good portion of our day using our cell phone. In fact, studies show the average American spends nearly half a day staring at a screen. With that much use becoming the norm, how would you know if you're truly addicted?

"The first thing I do when I get up in the morning is turn on my cell phone, make a cup of coffee and then go sit down and get on my cell phone." Tami Adami said.

From the moment she wakes up in the morning to the moment she goes to bed, Tami Adami is glued to her cell phone.

"I'm a texting grandma.” Adami said.

It wasn't always this way, her children, and, yes, even grandchildren are always on their phones and she says if you can't beat 'em join 'em, or in this case, text them.

"I do everything, I pay my bills, I Christmas shop I do everything from my cell phone." Adami said.

The attachment to our devices, spans generations, Austin Hadfield is a millennial, who's grown up hooked on his phone.

"It's kind of a jarring reality how much I do depend on it...but I do depend on it so much." Hadfield explained.

Dr. David Greenfield heads up the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction and is a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine.

"A technology addiction is no different than any other substance or behavioral based addiction,” Dr. Greenfield explains. “There is some degree of withdrawal being that there's discomfort when you don't use the device."

The 2 self-proclaimed cell phone addicts in our story say that’s the case when they can’t find their phone.

"I kind of go a little crazy because I have to feel that weight in my pocket." Hadfield said.

"I would compare it to losing an arm. Something is definitely missing and it's panic." Adami said.

However, Dr. Greenfield says the vast majority of us don't qualify as addicts, we're simply over-users. According to his qualifications, only between 2 and 6% of the population is classified as addicted. But, that small percentage includes millions of Americans.

"If it's not really interfering with your life in a significant way I would not make a diagnosis of addiction." Dr. Greenfield said.

When we get a notification on our cell phone, our brains get a hit of dopamine.

"That's why it's so addicting because every once in a while the piece of information that you find is desirable but you don't know what it's going to be and when you're going to get it." Dr. Greenfield explained.

That's why we can't put it down even when we know should. Adami says she even is on her cell phone in church.

"I won't say that I won't sneak a peek when the pastor's talking sometimes." Adami said.

"If you ask the general public is it dangerous to use your smart phone while you're driving almost everybody will say yes and almost everybody does it,” Dr. Greenfield explained. “We're all engaging in riskier behavior of the smart phone."

Dr. Greenfield offers this advice, turn off your cell phone when you're eating a meal, don't sleep with your smart phone next to your bed or on your pillow, don't look at screens for at least an hour before bedtime, and don't use it when spending time with your loved ones.

"It probably would be a little bit simpler not having a cell phone." Hadfield said.

"You know you don't see kids outside playing anymore because everybody's inside you know playing games or on their phones." Adami said.

“It's more about work life balance or technology life balance, it's not about getting rid of it because we're not getting rid of this, it's not going anywhere." Dr. Greenfield explained.

Dr. Greenfield says millennial and the generation now growing up with cell phones do have shorter attention spans as a result of their use. They also have a very short delay of gratification because they're used to getting things instantly.


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