Are You Addicted to Your Phone? Let’s Check.

Image by rawpixel from Pixabay

Recent research clocks the average smartphone user at roughly 3.5 hours a day on their phone. So why are college students spending an average of almost eight hours a day on their phones?

The answer lies in something far more sinister than the generational cry of “kids these days”. It's an addiction -- a phone addiction.

A report by the Journal of Behavioural Addictions defines addiction as “the repeated use of a substance despite the negative consequences suffered by the addicted individual.”

This same report conducted a survey in which 60% of college students admitted that they may be addicted to their smartphones. The question remains: how do we differentiate the integration of smartphones into our everyday lives and the abuse of a substance?


Image by Thomas Ulrich from Pixabay

Use vs. Abuse



  • Checking your email or texts when you have a notification

  • Constantly refreshing your email or texts as though expecting one to show up

  • Consciously deciding to use your phone

  • Absentmindedly scrolling through your phone, opening it, closing it, only to open it again moments later

  • Finishing what you need to do and turning off your phone for the night

  • Continuing to use your phone and surf well into the night and in your own bed, preventing sleep


Within a week, I asked multiple University of Maryland students about their phone use. Almost all of those students (sheepishly) admitted they felt addicted to their smartphone.

First, I asked how many hours each student thought they spent on their phones per day. Then I asked them to compare this with the app that tracks actual phone usage. Apple has a built-in program called Screen Time for this sort of thing, while Android phones recently released a tracker called Digital Wellbeing.

One student, Kofi Ansah-Brew, a senior at UMD, furrowed his brow as he read out his Screen Time report. It read eight hours a day. He’d guessed five. 

When asked how he spent those hours, Ansah-Brew offered an explanation in a strained voice. “It consumes a lot of your time. And if you do that… sometimes you lack self-control and you can lose a lot of hours in the day.”

Another student, J’Lah Brothers, a senior at UMD, was pleasantly surprised when she discovered her usage per day was “only five hours and 37 minutes.” Her original guess had been six hours.

“It’s used… as a procrastination tool [for homework],” she said when asked whether or not she felt addicted to her phone. “Sometimes it’s hard to pull away from [my phone] to get work done.”


Image by Jan Vasek from Pixabay

Combatting the Addiction

Recently, I came across an online forum regarding substance abuse where a user asked if it seemed like they themselves had a substance abuse problem. Another user responded, “if you’re asking, that’s a pretty good sign.”

If you’ve read this far, that might be another good sign, because why else would you read an article on phone addiction. What steps can you take to limit the time you spend on your phone?

1. Stop keeping your phone next to your bed.

In fact, stop using your phone an hour before bed. If you can’t do an hour, do a half-hour and work your way up. Blue light impedes melatonin production, which is a sleep-inducing chemical in the body. The lack of melatonin can severely impact sleep schedules. Build a healthy nighttime routine that doesn’t involve your phone.

2. Change your screen to grayscale.

Bright colors are appealing to our eyes. That’s part of what makes the vibrant world of a smartphone screen so addictive. By changing your screen to grayscale, your brain doesn’t get the same flood of dopamine and can then be more trained to seek out other sources.

3. Delete your social media apps.

This one is hard and you may find more success beginning with the previous steps. However, many people report social media as one of the main ways they use their phones. If it’s not vital to your work, try deleting the app for a day. Be it Instagram, Twitter or some other platform, see if you can go a day without it.

Ultimately, it’s important to be mindful. Smartphones are an integral part of life, especially for college students who are expected to be on the go and constantly networking. Take a day and try to track when and why you interact with your phone. Check-in on whatever app is tracking your screen time, because your own use may surprise you. I know mine did!