Expert advice Mind Trending

How to stay away from digital addiction

Dr Roshan Jain

Senior Consultant Psychiatrist, Apollo Hospitals, Bengaluru

5 min read

Using the internet, social media and electronic communication devices are amongst the most common activity of today’s world. A digital device, like a mobile phone has many characteristics that make it very attractive to people of all ages. It is primarily a communication tool, but with varied applications such as camera, music, internet, gaming and social media, it’s essentially the world in UR pocket. Unsurprisingly, its use has dramatically risen with an estimated 5.2 billion mobile phone users worldwide, and about 3.8 billion regularly using social media. The fear is, are we overusing and becoming too reliant on it? Latest research and data are already raising the alarm bell of new age addiction.

Digital interaction is inevitable in urbanized fast-paced isolated lives and further increased during the pandemic, as it aided social connection while being physically distanced (to reduce the spread of virus). With the ongoing restriction, work from home norms and online schooling, the screen time has drastically increased.

The mobile phone has connected us more than ever, but also overloaded us with information, mostly unnecessary, about everyone and everything. Further, social media is marred by propaganda, misinformation, rumours and some fake news. Arguably, it has turned us into a highly opinionated and intolerant bunch with inflexible and extreme views about many things.

The ‘swipe and type’ generation can’t do without the world in their pocket and demands instant access to everything. Technology has taken over us. Continuous use of personal devices is turning into compulsive checking, even in a social setting or in the middle of a conversation. With an ever-increasing list of application (apps) to use, these gadgets have become a constant source of distraction. Is smartphone use turning into a menace? Are we all addicted?

Wellness advice from qualified experts

Get personalized and curated wellness content on
By clicking, you agree to T&C and Privacy policy

What is digital addiction?

Digital addiction mainly covers dependence on the internet, social media, other electronic communication devices. Perhaps it covers reliance on small (mobile phone) and large devices (tablets, laptop and desktop).

Digital addiction is understood on the same behavioural basis as most other addictions and is characterized by four principal features, the 4 C’s, which stand for compulsion, craving, control and continuation. An individual who is unduly dependent on digital devices presents with a compulsive manner in pursuing the activity, experiences craving to engage in that activity, has difficulty in controlling its use (amount and frequency), continues despite adverse effect on work and life. Other features include – prioritization of the behavior over other essential activities, obligations, development of tolerance (need to increase the activity to achieve the same effect) and physical withdrawal state (e.g. irritability, restlessness or agitation) when UR unable to access the said activity.

Self-check, if you have three or more of the above features together for at least one month or, if persisting for periods of less than one month, then whether these features are present repeatedly over previous 12 months. If yes to either then you are likely addicted or dependent on a digital device. It may be time you consider engaging in self-help methods (listed below) to reduce your mobile phone use or seek professional advice.

Although digital addiction is not recognized by the diagnostic manual yet, research has compared it to gambling and other behavioral addiction, which has more precise diagnostic criteria. Studies are pointing to risks of this new age addiction and the detrimental impact of virtual lives.

Digital addiction is understood on the same behavioural basis as most other addictions and is characterized by four principal features, the 4 C’s, which stand for compulsion, craving, control and continuation.

Startling stats of ever-rising problem

A Mobile Marketing Association (MMA, India) studies reports that on an average consumer spends 5 hours per day on their smartphones, which surpasses time spent on TV or any other media. Social media and messaging apps were accounting for almost 50% of all time devoted to smartphones. Women spend 2 x more time on their smartphones compared to Men.

UK adult counterparts spend on an average 8 hours per day staring at their screens (more time than they sleep).

Join the wellness movement!

Get personalized and curated wellness content on
By clicking, you agree to T&C and Privacy policy

Other reports suggest over 60 hours spent on screens per week including television, smartphones and computer use. Screen time would have risen significantly during the pandemic as online schooling/college and work from home has become a norm worldwide. The hours on screen might have moved upwards, between 80 to 100 hours per week, which would tally to nearly 14 hours per day!

An average smartphone user will tap, swipe, click their smartphone 2,617 times a day while the top 10% do this about 5,427 times a day.

Another data suggest that we are phone obsessed. About a third (37%) of us feel the need to carry backup – 14% take battery backup, 14% keep a spare handset in case of the primary mobile runs out of juice (!), and 9% have mains or car chargers.

According to a survey by Wired magazine, 1 in 3 mobile owners would instead give up sex than their phones.

Finally, as reported in psychology today, an estimated 40% of the American population is addicted to their smartphones. Also, 58% of men and 47% of women have Nomophobia, which is the fear of being without a smartphone.

Impact on mental health

There is evidence that mobile phone abuse in related to physical and mental health problems, including attention deficit, disruptive behavior, anxiety & mood problems, addiction, sleep disorders, and eating disorders.

A study by the National Institute of Mental Health (UK) has found a robust and significant association between social media use and depression. Perhaps the pressure of continually monitoring our statuses and endlessly documenting every aspect of our lives on social networks is taking its toll. Equally, the ‘show and tell’ culture is fueling the narcissistic drive. Indeed, knowing everything about everyone must be stressful.

Other studies found a link between heavy social media use and depressive symptoms, including low self-esteem. Further data suggest higher mobile phone use increases anxiety. Interestingly, those who use 7-10 social media platform were three times more likely to report depressive symptoms.

Other potential problems being ‘cyberbullying,’ ‘sexting,’ and exposure to ‘inappropriate content.’

Our personality, sense of ‘self’ and emotional resilience is a consequence of healthy consistent (real world) attachment. It’s what enables the development of coping resource that essential for dealing with life stressors and for a harmonious life. Perhaps, our increasing reliance on technology-aided interactions is compromising this real-world resource acquisition.