Smartphone Addiction Increases Loneliness, Isolation; No Different From Substance Abuse, Experts Say

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SAN FRANCISCO — It’s well-known that smartphone, or more broadly, digital addiction can result in many negative mental effects on people over time. Recent research even found it creates a brain imbalance in teens. Now a new study finds that over-attachment to your phone can cause serious social problems — boosting feelings of loneliness and isolation — while worsening anxiety and depression symptoms.

Smartphones have become useful, everyday tools that essentially manage our daily lives. From calendars to calorie monitors to sleep aids, smartphone owners find themselves constantly glancing at their screens from the minute they wake up to the seconds before hitting the sack.  Whether it’s reading push notifications, responding to dings and vibrations, or constantly refreshing one’s Facebook newsfeed on the go, the need for phone time is becoming a more serious problem.

Researchers behind the study, conducted at San Francisco State University, liken smartphone addiction to opioid dependency, arguing that overuse of a mobile device is no different from substance abuse.“The behavioral 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 Erik Peper, co-lead author of the study and professor of health education at the school, in a news release.

The ubiquity of smartphones today betrays their usefulness, but app developers and tech companies are highly incentivized to create features that draw your eyes, and your attention, as much as possible. “More eyeballs, more clicks, more money,” comments Peper.

Peper and co-author Richard Harvey surveyed 135 students at the university about their smartphone usage and general digital habits. The researchers found that the students that used their phones the most reported feeling more lonely and isolated than peers less dependent on their devices. The most frequent users also reported higher levels of depression and anxiety.
 
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