Why are we so addicted?

An overview of phone addiction on adolescent brains

Riddle me this: You see them everywhere in the hands of those you know. They connect us, entertain us, and hurt us. What are they?

The answer is pretty obvious.

If you’re a student, your phone is the most important thing in your pocket.

It’s what allows you to keep track of social media, it lets you talk with your friends and it helps you in school when you need to look up something. Phones are an integral part of our lives.

Maybe too integral.

It’s no secret to anyone that Gen Z is arguably the generation most addicted to their phones. You hear it from your parents and any old person that moves, we are too attached to our phones. Why is that? What’s the psychology behind phone addiction?

It’s more complicated than you think.

For one, it has to do with a person’s age. Yes, in some sense, older people do have a point when complaining about how addicted the younger generation is. According to a study done by the Frontiers of Psychology, “Adolescents under 20 years old are the most at-risk for cell phone addiction because this age group is more likely to experience behavioral problems.”

These behavioral issues include stress, self-esteem, mental health and impulse control.

Impulse control describes one’s ability to, well, control impulses. Impulse is the strong and unreflective desire to act or do something, such as buying something off of Amazon that you want the moment you see it, not giving a second thought as to why you want it or how much money it is.

Some have better impulse control than others.

What’s important is that young adolescents don’t have a fully developed sense of impulse control that directly correlates to phone use.  According to the same study, “27 percent of smartphone users between the ages of 11 and 14 years old never turn their cell phones off, even to sleep.” This is underdeveloped self-control at its finest.

And when one is unable to control an action or activity that begins to disrupt daily life, that’s when it becomes an addiction.

It doesn’t stop there, however. There’s also evidence that points to one’s sociology being an important factor of phone addiction.

Sociology is an aspect of psychology that specifically focuses on social interaction. It’s the way we talk to people and interact with the wider environment around us. More importantly, it’s the part of ourselves that decides our personality.

Introversion and Extroversion are the biggest examples of personal sociology.

According to a study conducted by the IJTES (International Journal of Technology in Education and Science), extroverts are more likely to use their phones for social media usage compared to introverts in instances of phone addiction.

This makes sense for a myriad of reasons.

Firstly, extroverts are defined as people who thrive most when in social situations. Secondly, phones act as a one way highway to social media platforms such as Instagram and Tiktok. Lastly, the trend of influencers on the internet is a position that attracts the most amount of social interaction.

While not every extrovert who roams the internet is an influencer, extroverted adolescents who recognize that social media presence provides an unlimited flow of interaction will actively try to pursue it. Thus, they’ll jump on trends, challenges, and other hashtags that will provide them with the dopamine they so actively seek from social interaction.

Speaking of which, dopamine is probably the third most crucial part of phone addiction.

Dopamine is an essential chemical that the brain emits. Also known as the “feel good” chemical, it’s a neurotransmitter that’s primarily responsible for our mood, specifically happiness. Healthy levels of dopamine drives us to pursue pleasurable or entertaining activities. This could range from drawing to exercise.

These activities are categorized as pleasurable activities due to the connections that are mentally made. Being a neurotransmitter, dopamine sends a signal to your brain immediately after experiencing an activity that is enjoyed, dubbed a “high”.

It’s naturally possible to conclude that one can develop an addiction to dopamine.

Dopamine addiction is actually one of the many characteristics of addiction. Since there’s a resultive “high” following an enjoyable activity, people may try to chase this high by repeating the activity. This symptom synonymous with addiction can be developed by phone addiction.

Phones are a swiss-army tool of entertainment that can provide many different methods of transmitting dopamine. This is something that we subconsciously take advantage of on a constant basis. From social media to mobile games, students aren’t without an instant shot of dopamine by their side.

This is actually the reason why phones are often used during class.

Since classes don’t provide the dopamine students are so addicted to, they turn to phones to provide them with that happy chemical. This ultimately leads to students performing poorly in academics. Not only that, but this dopamine addiction has also led to shorter attention spans among Gen Z. This is because dopamine is also responsible for our attention span, which can wane when one has a dopamine addiction.

In the end, how does one combat this?

The easiest way to treat phone addiction is to have the phone out of sight and out of mind. Turning it off completely and leaving it in either your backpack or locker can help students focus on their classes. Since students are so tempted to automatically reach for their phones, storing it in a locker can help fight the urge.

There also isn’t a problem with replacing one urge with another, more healthier urge.

Whenever you feel like reaching for your phone, reach for something else instead. A pencil to tap on your desk, a book to read when you’re not busy, something that provides dopamine that isn’t your phone.

Just like any other addiction, phone addiction is something that can be worked through. And of course, these aren’t the only factors that contribute to this specific type of addiction.

While it’s highly unlikely that Gen Z isn’t going to be breaking out of the cycle of phone and dopamine addiction any time soon, it’s still interesting to learn the psychology behind it.