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Overuse of mobile phones has led researchers to examine smartphone addiction due to the many consequences associated with the overuse of digital devices. Concerns about phone addiction began appearing early in the literature (Billieux et al. 2008; Chóliz 2010). Other concerns involving dangerous consequences were phone use while driving (Bianchi and Phillips 2005; White et al. 2004), and using phones in forbidden areas (Nickerson et al. 2008). Since then, the evidence base has grown considerably. This article outlines some more salient studies clinicians may want to understand.
According to the World Health Organization (2015), phone addiction is a public health concern. Activities such as using mobile Internet are associated with smartphone addiction because these behaviors contribute to increased checking behaviors, which can develop into phone addiction (Jeong et al. 2016). Differences in smartphone addiction are age-dependent, prompting researchers to examine whether younger adults are more prone to phone addiction.
More Recent Smartphone Addiction Studies
Kuss and colleagues. (2018) investigated the presence of depression symptoms, anxiety, stress, and mobile phone use among a sample of 273 Generation X (born until the early 1980s) and Generation Y (born in the mid-1980s and later) adults. Specific mobile phone use behaviors examined include phone calls, texting, the amount of time spent using the phone, and engagement in certain smartphone activities. Results indicated that prohibited smartphone use and phone addiction (i.e., dependence) were factors that were predicted by:
- Calls per day
- Time spent on the phone
- Time spent using social media.
Prohibited smartphone use involves using smartphones in situations where they are not permitted or safe. In healthcare, a typical example is sending unencrypted texts about a named client or patient from a physician or therapist to an admin.
The Kuss research team discussed several other relevant findings, including:
Smartphone addiction (i.e., dependence) predicted more significant stress
Prohibited use and phone addiction (i.e., dependence) had similar predictors related to phone use and activities, primarily daily calls and the amount of time spent on the phone using social media. This suggests that there could be an overlap between smartphone addiction and prohibited use
Using social media and anxiety were factors most closely associated with Generation Y
A greater number of daily calls were most common among Generation X, indicating that Generation Y is more likely to communicate using social media. At the same time, Generation X is more likely to communicate using phone calls
In summary, Kuss and colleagues reported that age was unrelated to time spent on the phone, calls made, and social media. This means that the risk of phone addiction and prohibited use can happen at any age.
The Kuss findings are supported by a more recent meta-analysis of smartphone addiction in 24 countries, which showed an alarming increase in the rise in phone addiction. In the meta-analysis of 24 countries, Olson and colleagues (2020) focused on young adults. The 2014-2020 analyses included 24 countries, 83 samples, and 33,831 participants. The researchers showed that problematic smartphone use is increasing across the world. China and Saudi Arabia had the highest rates, while Germany and France had the lowest. The study concluded that smartphone addiction is growing worldwide.
Research suggests that treatment providers should assess smartphone addiction among young people and adults, especially young adults struggling with stress management issues and with symptoms of depression and anxiety. Many potential precipitating factors and possible causes, including COVID, may add to an increasingly widespread frequency of smartphone addiction. A range of problematic behaviors has been positively associated with phone addiction. Furthermore, psychopathology may need to be ruled out as a contributor to excessive and problematic smartphone use.
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