Smartphone addiction: ‘They are weapons of mass distraction’

One way of better managing your use of a smartphone is to leave it in another room before you go to bed. Photograph: Getty Images

Many of us joke about how we – or other family members or friends – are addicted to their smartphones. But, there is a serious side to this ubiquitous behaviour and although smartphone addiction has yet to be classified as a mental disorder – psychiatrists and psychotherapists are dealing with troubling symptoms linked to technology overuse.

Dr Colman Noctor is a psychotherapist at St Patrick’s University Hospital, Dublin who has a special interest in how technology impacts on our mental health.

“People are not referred to us for smartphone addiction. It’s usually for anxiety, depression or other things but when you start to unpack their issues, a problematic relationship with technology is often there,” he explains.

The key sign of smartphone addiction is when the importance of using the phone plays a disproportionate role in your life to the extent that your functioning is impaired.

“If your work, performance or ability to engage in a task is compromised by screen time and if your concentration and mood are determined by whether you have access to technology and the internet, then it’s a problem,” says Noctor.

This amount of things we now do on our phones – from checking bus/train times, the weather and the news to listening to music – all create a dependency on the phone which fuels smartphone addiction for some people. But it is the compulsive need to check what’s going on, upload comments and/or check feedback on social media apps that are the real signs of out of control use of a smartphone.

‘Hidden gaming community’

Use of pornography sites, gambling apps or gaming are more serious sub-sections of smartphone addiction. “There is a hidden gaming community. It’s not the typical 19-year-old male hidden in a basement. Gamers include middle aged professional women playing two hours each night to the detriment of communicating with their husbands and children,” says Noctor.