Latest developments in causes and treatments



Smartphone Addiction: An Unrecognized Problem

Smartphone addiction is not recognized as a mental health disorder in the latest Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), but there’s no doubt that many people suffer from excessive smartphone use, especially young people.

A recent study of nursing post-grads in China correlated excessive smartphone use with stress and loneliness. According to their analysis, 10.41% of the 224 nurses surveyed suffered from smartphone addiction. Factors for assessing addiction included the amount of time using the phone, the number of phones used, and rankings on standardized tests for measuring stress, loneliness, security, and resilience. The study found that…

[…] constant use of smartphones may result in a range of side effects (i.e., negative emotions, changes in lifestyles and behaviors, and lower communication skills).

More than half the nurses surveyed used their phones 10-29 times a day for more than five hours a day. Surprisingly, only slightly more than 10% of the nurses were considered “addicted” based on the Smartphone Addiction Scale for College Students, which measures 22 factors including time spent engaging with the phone, withdrawal behaviors, and other negative effects. In larger surveys, as many as 20% of college-aged smartphone users were found to be “addicted” using the same scale.

One factor involved in smartphone addiction is age. As we have discussed in previous posts on AddictionNews, minors can be far more susceptible to behavioral addictions due to their still-forming brains and the social environment for kids. Obviously, this tendency is particularly pronounced with compulsive smartphone use.

The book, Adolescent Addiction, from the Academic Press, has a chapter on smartphone addiction that is available free online. The authors define problematic smartphone use as “a form of behavior characterized by the compulsive use of the device that results in various forms of physical, psychological, or social harm.” Some of the harms include:

  • Anxiety expressed in excessive phone checking.
  • Sleep disorders from checking the phone frequently.
  • Increased duration and frequency of use to get the same satisfaction.
  • Use in dangerous situations (driving, walking, etc).
  • Unable to afford the large amounts of money spent on in-app purchases.
  • Repeated failure at curtailing the use of the smartphone.
  • Negative impacts of smartphone use on family participation.
  • Negative impacts of smartphone use on school performance.
  • Anxiety, cravings and irritability when smartphone use is restricted.

The authors review the literature on smartphone addiction and summarize the negative impacts this way:

Excessive smartphone use can lead to neurological changes […] which results in poorer attention and control as well as being more easily distracted. The high accessibility to the rapid flow of information from adolescents’ smartphones can reduce their attention spans as well. Due to neurological immaturity, adolescents can become more dependent on instant rewards associated with smartphones as opposed to natural and/or delayed rewards that come from interactions with friends and family members…

Unfortunately, there is still a tremendous lack of data about the prevalence of smartphone addiction amongst youth and the consequences for brain development. As we find more in the scientific literature, we will bring it to you here.

Written by Steve O’Keefe. First published December 11, 2023.


“Prevalence and factors associated with smartphone addiction among nursing postgraduates during the COVID-19 pandemic,” BMC Psychiatry, December 2023.

“Smartphone addiction, risk factors and its adverse effects in nursing students: A systematic review and meta-analysis,” Nurse Education Today, November 2023.

Adolescent Addiction, Academic Press, 2020.

Image Copyright: gelpi.



Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *