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Being glued to your smartphone might pose similar effects as substance abuse


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What would we do without our smartphones? Those rectangular pieces of tech accompany us everywhere: We use them to navigate, to track our fitness goals, to shop, to bank, and, of course, to interact with others—particularly on social media. And it all seems harmless, right? If anything, having smartphones helps us better manage our modern lives. Unfortunately, a new study claims being connected 24/7 to your phone might affect you just like substance abuse would.

“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.” —Dr. Erik Peper, study co-author

Published in the journal NeuroRegulation, the study surveyed 135 students in San Francisco and found that those who used their phones the most felt more isolated, lonely, depressed, and anxious than those who used them less. Researchers of the study said overusing a smartphone is in line with the American Society for Addiction Medicine (ASAM)’s definition of addiction: “An individual pathologically pursues reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors. Addiction is characterized by inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control…and a dysfunctional emotional response.” Sound familiar? The study authors certainly thought so.

“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,” says study co-author Erik Peper, PhD and professor of health education at San Francisco State University (SFSU), in a press release.

But addiction isn’t the only negative result of overusing phones. It also leads to constant multitasking while studying, eating, attending class, and watching other media—meaning users never get a true break away from their phones. This kind of multitasking, called “semi-tasking,” is when people simultaneously complete multiple tasks half as well as they would if they gave one activity their whole focus. Another negative side effect is that the notifications and alerts that make you look at your phone trigger the same parts of the brain that were built to keep you out of danger. “Now we are hijacked by those same mechanisms that once protected us and allowed us to survive—for the most trivial pieces of information,” Dr. Peper says.

So, yeah, obsessively tinkering on your smartphone isn’t the healthiest habit you likely possess. Luckily, there are some simple ways to make sure your phone doesn’t have the same effect on your brain as other forms of addiction. According to Dr. Peper, that means training your brain to be less addicted to technology by turning off your push notifications and only checking your email and social media at certain points throughout the day—not all day. Hmm…I wonder if there’s an app to help you take a break from your smartphone—just kidding!

Here’s why “seen” notifications make social media even more addictive. Or, find out how using certain Instagram filters could be a sign of depression.

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