UNLphones art

According to a recent study, about 40% of college students in the United Kingdom have a smartphone addiction, so members of Counseling and Psychological Services and Big Red Resilience & Well-being shared their thoughts about smartphone addiction at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. 

Brigham Scott, psychologist and alcohol and other drugs services coordinator at CAPS, said smartphone addiction is an emerging area of addiction and mental health. Scott said it is not classified as a distinct disorder, but it is an official issue that a lot of mental health providers are seeing.

“I would anticipate since this is such a common thing, that it’s such a problem for so many people, that in the next updated version of the [Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,] there will be some kind of disorder addressing technology, gaming and smartphone addiction,” Scott said.

A college student might have a smartphone addiction if their smartphone usage is having a negative impact on their social life, job or school, if it is exacerbating their mental health condition or if they are excessively using it to cope with other mental health conditions, according to Scott. 

Caroline Nebel, senior english major and well-being coach, said smartphones are supposed to be a tool for communication, but most people treat their smartphone as an entertainment device. Smartphones can become a release for people or a break from work, which gives them a more addictive quality, according to Nebel.

Scott said it is pretty rare for a smartphone addiction to be the primary reason for a student to come to CAPS. However, usually upon further assessment with a student, it is clear technology addiction is part of the problem, according to Scott. 

“I think there’s a lot of people who underestimate the impact that their technology use is having on their lives,” Scott said. “I think with this society with younger generations, technology is so integrated and normalized.”

Nebel said smartphone addiction happens because the brain is used to getting stimulated every time someone uses their smartphone. For example, she said, when someone eats candy, the brain produces dopamine and the person gets used to that. Smartphones have the same effect.

Scott said there are a lot of stimuli on smartphones, like the lighting, being able to go from different apps quickly and playing any gaming apps. Scott said a lot of the components of a phone work on the same areas of the brain that are triggered when someone is addicted to something else.

Nebel said she decided to delete her social media and switch from smartphone to a flip phone around the end of last year. At first, Nebel said she did it as an experiment to see what would happen and to see if her concentration would improve at all. 

“I have seen a major difference in my ability to focus, which has been really nice,” Nebel said. “There’s downsides for sure, but I don’t feel like I get as bored anymore and I have gained a different perspective.”

For students who think they might have a smartphone addiction or are concerned about their smartphone usage, Scott said they can keep track of how much they use their smartphone, can set up a realistic goal to lessen their smartphone usage and they can always go to CAPS.

Scott said he is in the process of developing a program like Brief Alcohol Screening and Intervention of College Students or Cannabis Screening and Intervention of College Students for internet and gaming addiction. 

Nebel said it is not necessarily bad for people to use their smartphone a lot, but it is important for people to not blindly use it.

“It’s just more about being aware of how it affects you and then seeing what you need to do in your life to be the most successful,” Nebel said.