Cellularitis: Sleeping With Our Smartphones

What follows is a loose excerpt from my new book (of "Phubbing" fame), Too Much of a Good Thing: Are You Addicted to Your Smartphone?

Are you having a love affair with your cell-phone? Nearly two-thirds of adults sleep with their cell-phone in their bed or within arm's length every night, according to Pew Research. An astounding 90 percent of teens and young adults are sleeping with their cell-phones. To make things even worse, we are not practicing safe cell-phoning. A recent poll found that 41 percent of us have multiple partners (more than one cell-phone), 46 percent do not use any type of protection (password protection) and half of us try to hide our messages and texts from our partners' prying eyes.

It appears that we have a cell-phone pandemic on our hands. I have a name for all this telephony -- Cellularitis. Like the common cold, it spreads from human to human. Similar to other STDs (socially transmitted diseases), out-of-control cell-phone use results in habitual use of one's cell-phone to the detriment of his or her well-being. This STD is highly contagious. Just being around others using their cell-phones causes us to seek solace in our own cellular pacifier.

Okay, so we love our cell-phones. But addiction, no way. So, I sleep with my cell-phone, take calls and send texts in the bathroom, fight with others about my obsession with Facebook or Words with Friends, and risk life and limb to text while driving doesn't mean I am hooked. Just because I can't envision a life without my cell-phone doesn't mean I am addicted, does it? To find out if you have a cell-phone Jones (70s speak for addiction) you'll have to take the quiz below.

Research has identified the "six signs" of any type of substance or behavioral addiction (Griffiths, 1995). Those six signs -- salience, mood modification, tolerance, withdrawal, conflict and relapse -- apply to cellphone addiction as well.

Are you addicted?

Let's see.


Read the definitions of each of the six signs below and then click whether you agree or disagree with each of the statements that follow. By the time you've completed this task, you will have a better idea of whether you've reached your tipping point when it comes to your smartphone use.

1. Salience

A behavior becomes salient when it is deeply integrated into your daily routine.

The first thing I reach for after waking in the morning is my cellphone.
Agree Disagree

Do you sleep with your smartphone next to you in bed?
Agree Disagree

2. Euphoria

Who knows what the beep, buzz, whistle or stylized ringtone might have in store for you? The feeling of anticipation or excitement that precedes and/or follows the use of your cellphone is a mood modification resulting in euphoria.

I often use my cellphone when I am bored.
Agree Disagree

I have pretended to take calls to avoid awkward social situations.
Agree Disagree

3. Tolerance

Like in drug and alcohol abuse, tolerance addresses the need for an ever-increasing "dose" of the behavior to achieve the desired "high."

I find myself spending more and more time on my cellphone.
Agree Disagree

I spend more time than I should on my cellphone.
Agree Disagree

4. Withdrawal symptoms

The feelings of irritability, stress, anxiousness, desperation and even panic that often occur when you are separated from your cellphone are good examples of withdrawal symptoms.

I become agitated or irritable when my cellphone is out of sight.
Agree Disagree

I have gone into a panic when I thought I lost my cellphone.
Agree Disagree

5. Conflict

A common outcome from cellphone addiction is conflict. Do your spouse or children complain that you are always on your phone? Do you allow texts, calls and e-mails to spoil your vacations and personal time? Are your work activities interrupted by playing games, visiting Facebook and other countless forms of entertainment offered via your cellphone?

I have argued with my spouse, friends or family about my cellphone use.
Agree Disagree

I use my cellphone while driving my car.
Agree Disagree

6. Relapse

When we acknowledge that our cellphone use may be undermining our well-being, we attempt to stop. But, then we slip back. We relapse.

I have tried to curb my cellphone use but the effort didn't last very long.
Agree Disagree

I need to reduce my cellphone use but am afraid I can't do it.
Agree Disagree

Are you addicted?

It's time to see if you have crossed the tipping point from reasonable cellphone use to potentially addictive cellphone habits. To calculate your score, simply add up the number of "agree" responses to each of the 12 statements and check the results.

8 + "Agrees"

You need a reservation at the Betty Ford Clinic for habitual cellphone users.

5-7 "Agrees"

You have crossed the tipping point and are moving quickly to full-blown cellphone addiction.

3-4 "Agrees"

You have not yet reached your tipping point but need to carefully assess how your cellphone is impacting your life.

0-2 "Agrees"

You are either living in a monastery or have the patience and self-restraint of a monk. Or, technology simply scares you.

Since smartphones (in some form) are likely here to stay, we all need to reach some kind of digital détente as how best to relate with the 21st century equivalent to the security blanket. I am not so bold to suggest that you go "cold turkey," but we all must set aside times where we unplug from our digital devices and plug into what really matters - friends, family and being in the moment.

Try it. You might like it.

Source: Mark Griffiths, 1995, Technological Addictions, Clinical Psychology Forum, February, 14 - 19.