The Epidemic of Mobile Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, and Stats

The impacts of excessive mobile device use on our quality of life

Justin Baker


Paul Rogers — From NY Times Article by Jane Brody

Back in the early 2000’s, I loved going to the movies — as did all teens my age. We all arrived at the theater, stood around, laughed, chatted, and grabbed some food. This was before the age of smart phones and even widespread cellphone adoption. If I used a phone, it was to call someone to pick me up or to text someone to see why they were late.

Our phones were not the center of our worlds. They were things we had on us to serve a purpose, like a wallet. Our primary world was with each other, in the present, enjoying the moment. Hey, it wasn’t perfect and we had our share of distractions, but things have drastically changed.

Today, I go to a theater as an adult and I see a similar group of teens — but they aren’t talking directly to each other. In fact, they aren’t even looking at each other. They are looking at the ground, chin tucked in, smirking into the soft glow of an LED screen.

They would occasionally glance up from their device to make sure the group was still there. Sometimes the phone would go back in their pocket for a brief reprieve. But, when that next notification vibrated or if there was ever a moment of ‘boredom’, the phone was back out — as if the longer a notification was left unchecked, the more the anxiety and unease mounted.

The Signs & Symptoms of Addiction

According to a 2016 NIH study, DSM-5 Criteria for drug abuse disorders can be used effectively to identify cell phone addiction. Mobile addiction, therefore, can be defined as a psychological dependence on mobile devices whereby users exhibit symptoms similar to drug addiction. Often, these symptoms manifest and develop over the course of months and years, but may also manifest in shorter ‘binges’ (e.g when trying a new mobile game).

Potential Indicators of Cell Phone Addiction (Front Psychiatry. 2016; 7: 175.):

  • Conscious use of phones in dangerous situations or in prohibited contexts (e.g while driving)
  • Excessive phone use that causes social and family conflicts and confrontations, as well as loss of interest in other shared activities
  • Continuing the behavior despite the negative effects and/or personal malaise it causes
  • Excessive phone use causing noticeable physical, mental, social, work, or family disturbances (e.g eye strain, symptoms of withdrawal, stress, and anxiety)
  • Chronic impulsiveness to check your device
  • Frequent and constant checking of phone in very brief periods of time causing insomnia and sleep disturbances
  • Increase in use to achieve satisfaction or relaxation or to counteract a dysphoric mood
  • Excessive use, urgency, need to be connected
  • Need to respond immediately to messages, preferring the cell phone to personal contact
  • Abstinence, dependence, craving
  • Anxiety, irritability if cell phone is not accessible, feelings of unease when unable to use it


  • Insomnia
  • Inability to Focus / Complete a Task
  • Stress and Restlessness
  • Relationship Stress
  • Eye Strain
  • Neck Pain
  • Social Anxiety
  • Escapist Behavior
  • Dependence on Digital Validation

Source — Newport Academy

The Stats & Studies


33% of teens and 50% of parents occasionally or very often try to reduce the amount of time they spend on their mobile devices, but most fail to change. Lake Research Partners, Device Addiction Survey (2017)

Young adults (age 15–24) check their smartphones an average of 150 times per day (or every six minutes), and send an average of 110 texts per day — New York Times report, 2017 — Pew Research Study 2011

50% of surveyed teens admitted that they felt addicted to their mobile devices. — Lake Research Partners, Device Addiction Survey (2017)

60% of U.S. college students consider themselves to have a cell phone addiction — Roberts, J., Yaya, L., & Manolis, C. (2014) The invisible addiction

54% of young adults are checking their devices constantly (multiple times per hour) — Bank of America Trends in Consumer Mobility Report (2015)


77% of surveyed parents feel that their teens get distracted by devices and don’t pay attention when they are together. — Lake Research Partners, Device Addiction Survey 2017

Depression & Anxiety

A longitudinal study of over 1000 Australian high school students ages 13–16 found that poor-quality sleep associated with late-night phone use was linked to a decline in mental health, such as depressed moods, declines in self-esteem, and coping ability. — Journal of Child Development, Mobile Phones in the Bedroom 2017

2.7 times higher rates of depression were found in frequent social media users over less frequency users. — University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Social Media & Depression Survey 2016

A study from the University of Illinois finds that high engagement with mobile technology is linked to anxiety and depression in college-age students, as they used devices to avoid dealing with unpleasant experiences or feelings.— University of Illinois Negative mental health outcomes 2016

Self-Esteem & Personality

This study analyzed whether an individual’s personality impacted how he or she interacted with their device: extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism and self-esteem. — Personality and Self-Reported Phone Use, Sarah Butt, Computers in Human Behavior 2008

  • Extraverts reported using the phone more as a means of stimulation
  • Extraverts and disagreeable individuals were less likely to value incoming calls
  • Disagreeable extraverts reported using the mobile phone more, and spent more time configuring their phone
  • The neurotic, disagreeable, unconscientious, and extroverted personality types spent more time texting and engaging in mobile conversations
  • This study concludes that psychological theory can explain patterns of mobile phone use

Main Take Away

One of the common themes in many of these studies was ‘tolerance’, which is basically the belief that our behavior, regardless of its consequences, was acceptable, common, and normal. In a sense, we are normalizing a dependence.

The first step, then, may be to take conscious steps to acknowledge how excessive phone use truly makes us feel and how it impacts those around us.

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Justin Baker

Director of Design at Netflix — Top Writer in Tech & Design — All opinions are my own