Smart Phone Addiction and the Association with Anxiety, Depression, and ADHD

Smart phone use is constant in America and around the world. You see people and especially kids on them everywhere. You even see people driving on their phone constantly, I feel like at least a quarter of the people I pass on the interstate are on their phones! There is an obsession that seems to only be getting worse, especially in our youth. Research is now finding that kids with smart phone addiction issues are also much more likely to sufferer from anxiety, depression, and ADHD. I am going to discuss why in this blog!

I recently deleted all social media from my smart phone. It was one of the best things I have done in a long time, and this is what I noticed: 
 1. I soon came to realize how much more peace it brought me.

2. I was less anxious, and I felt better about myself because I wasn’t comparing myself to everyone else (looking at the best moments of every persons life in facebook or Instagram).  

3. I also noticed I wasn’t getting disturbed by notifications which allowed my attention to other subjects to be better.

The funny thing is I didn’t realize how much better I felt until reading this study on adolescent smart phone addiction. After reflecting on this this study I realized that in a smaller way I was feeling these same things. I also suspect that many people also experience this daily anxiousness, slight depressions, and focus issues even from small amounts of smartphone usage.

The study: The Relationship between smartphone addiction and symptoms of depression, anxiety, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity in South Korean adolescents.

This study talks about the relationship between smartphone use and these disorders. Their study found that kids that have smart phone addiction are also much more likely to have depression, anxiety, and ADHD. In my clinical practice I find the same thing. 

The thing I don’t agree with this study is that they are saying these kids have smartphone addiction issues because they have anxiety, depression, or ADHD. Inversely I would argue that these kids have ADHD, anxiety, and depression from their increased utilization of smartphones.The reason why I believe this is simple. When you take these electronics out of a child life that is struggling with these issues this they get better. 

The reason this happens is due to the fact that most games and social media applications are ment to be addictive and keep you glued to them. They do this by rewarding short term attention with a hit of dopamine. We release dopamine whenever something good happens, so everytime you get a like on a Instagram post, you reach the next level in a game, etc. what happens is your brain releases dopamine (the feel good hormone). Then what do you do? You stay on it and keep looking for the next hit of dopamine! It is basic human nature to search for what feels good, and it is what has driven our species for thousands of years.

The problem is when you activate these short term attention with chronic rewards systems they get stronger. What that means is that we literally develop these networks more and more and literally create short term attention. I notice this in myself when I use electronics more, I am constantly switching between apps, looking something up for a minute then on to something else. never really finishing one thing and heading on to whatever will give me a dopamine hit. Once I stopped using social media that has all changed. No wonder there is an association between ADHD and being addicted to smartphones, they have trained their brain to have focus issues. (side note: I do also realize there is much more complex neurology and many other lifestyle factors that play into ADHD and am excited to share those with you in future posts!)

When it comes to anxiety and depression I feel this is simple. If you are constantly following people on social media that are famous, or seem to have it all, your life will seem dim in comparison. All that you see on social media is the best of every persons life, you see the highlights. Adolescents don’t understand this is not reality, they get the impression that everyones life around them is fantastic and full of perfect wonderful picture perfect experiences. In reality they likely are not. Every person has ups and downs, but when you compare yourself to someones Instagram page it makes you feel insecure about yourself. You think your life is less than theirs. You develop an internal language that tells yourself you are not as good as the person next to you. I would feel anxious and depressed to!

Do you think that smartphone use cases anxiety, depression, and ADHD? Or do you think that anxiety, depression, and ADHD make someone more likely to become smartphone addicted?


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