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Could You Be Addicted to Your Cell Phone?

Students report feeling "fidgety, panicky, and lonely" without cell phones

Do you check your cell phone for missed calls or texts first thing in the morning when you wake up? Do you find yourself checking your phone multiple times throughout the day and feeling anxious if you don’t check it? Do you feel compelled to use your cell phone at inappropriate times such as during work, in class, while driving, or when dining with friends or family? Has your cell phone use ever interfered with your performance at school or work? Do you feel that you spend so much time on your cell phone that it may be keeping you from participating in other activities? Have you tried to cut back on your cell phone use without success? Would you be distressed if you did not have your phone with you for a few hours? If you answered yes to many of these questions, you may be exhibiting addictive cell phone behaviors according to some researchers (Atchley and Warden, 2012).

Cell phone over-use has received a lot of research and media attention these days, especially when it comes to teens and young adults. This is a reflection of how serious of an epidemic cell phone overuse may be. So is the fact that there are even free cell phone apps available for people to download in an attempt to curtail their problematic cell phone use!

One study reported that texting and cell phone conversations are the most common ways that teens socialize with their peers outside of school, surpassing face-to-face contact, voice calling, and email (Lenhart, Ling, Campbell, and Purcell 2010). The same study reported that females ages 14-17 sent an average of 100 texts per day, or 3000 a month. Heavy cell phone use can also be seen in college aged young adults. A group of US college freshmen surveyed sent over 100 texts per day on average (Blackman, Welsh, Gray, and Culpepper, 2010).

College students around the world appear to be similar with regards to their reliance on cell phones. A recent study conducted by the International Center for Media and Public Agenda (ICMPA, 2010) at the University of Maryland asked nearly 1000 students from 10 countries in five continents to give up all media, including their cell phones, for 24 hours and then to write about their experience. An overwhelming majority of participants used literal terms of addiction to characterize their experience. One American student wrote “I was itching, like a crackhead…because I could not use my phone.” Students felt fidgety, panicky, and lonely without media; one student even wrote that they “missed holding [their] cell phone so much” that they carried it around with them without a battery to feel “comfort.”

The descriptive research studies detailed above are just some of the studies that will help researchers to define what is typical versus problematic cell phone use. As more studies emerge and results can be compared, researchers will be able to address whether cell phone abuse or addiction can be considered true disorders with more confidence. If so, researchers will need to come to agreement on what may be its defining symptoms. If you would like to find out more about what is considered problematic cell phone use and personality traits that may be related, see this fairly recent review article by Perez, Rodriguez, and De Leon (2012) .


Atchley, P., & Warden, A. (2012). The need of young adults to text now: Using delay discounting to assess informational choice. Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, 1 (4), December 2012, pp. 229–234.

Blackman, S. L. (2010). Cell Phone Usage Patterns With Friends, Parents, and Romantic Partners in College Freshmen. University of Tennessee Honors Thesis Projects.

Lenhart, A., Ling, R., Campbell, S., & Purcell, K. (2010) . Teens and mobile phones. Pew Internet and American Life Project.

Moeller, S., Chong, E., Golitsinski, S., Guo, J., McCaffrey, R., Nynka, A., & Roberts, J. (2010). A day without media. International Center for Media and the Public Agenda. Accessed 9 July 2010.