By Fiyaz Mughal
Addiction used to be a word associated with drugs, alcohol, sex or eating.
At a very basic level, an addiction is something that causes you to feel that you cannot do without it and when it starts to interfere in other parts of your life. Given this statement, how many of you can honestly say that you are not addicted to watching, holding and engaging with your mobile phones?
How many of you have felt acutely anxious when you cannot access your mobile phone and worse still, how many of you access your mobile phone to check on social media apps like ‘X’. If, for example, you are regularly checking every hour, there is a chance that you are now on the hamster wheel of getting that dopamine hit which at the most basic level, is what drives addictive behaviour.
Dopamine is the ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter, one which with a number of other eurotransmitters, gives the ‘high’ that is associated with addictions.
What is also interesting to note and be aware of, is that mobile phones are gateways to other addictions. The range of gambling ‘apps’ and the ease of accessing pornography means that mobile phones have become one of the most mentally captivating of all technological items that have been developed in the last 50 years.
They have literally given access to gambling, sex and illicit drug distribution opportunities, within the click of a few buttons. It is the ultimate consumer icon of this century.
Whilst mobile phone addiction may not have the stigma of alcohol or sex addictions, the mechanisms of addiction are pretty much the same.
The same brain circuitry is involved in drug or sex addictions and the difference may be in the potency and efficacy between these areas of addiction, though do not underestimate the addictive pulls that are driven by social media platforms or gambling ‘apps’ on mobiles.
It is also important to note that addictions are not just physical, they create cognitive disturbances and distortions. For example, taking cocaine not only physically creates changes in individuals, making them more alert and more engaging, they also create a sense of cognitive control in users and this is a cross-cutting theme in all of the addictions.
The fact is that when people satisfy their addictions, they feel more in control.
Again, I ask the question. Does regularly checking your mobile phone, whether it be for ‘Whatsapp’ messages, or for social media apps, make you feel more in control?
I suspect that for many people, this is precisely the case, that there is a synergy to physically holding the phone and engaging with it and also meeting the psychological need for checking and control.
So how can we wean ourselves off addictions? The first way is through cognitive and psychological support. The second is by actively doing the opposite that the addiction drives you too, but this changing pattern of behaviour needs to take place some way down the line after therapeutic and mental health support mechanisms have been in place for some time.
Another way is to use cognitive disputation techniques. This involves getting a paper and listing the thoughts associated with the need for constantly checking your mobile phone.
These thoughts should be placed in the first column against a counter-column, which lists alternative thoughts and facts to dispute the original thoughts that lead to the addiction.
It is important you do this on a regular basis and to collate the papers and read them regularly so that you can expose yourself to the challenging thoughts that you have come up with and which are meaningful to you.
Being addicted to screens and to your mobile phone also has long term physical impacts.
Long-term use can create patterns of thought that become habitual and more difficult to change and counter.
They also affect eyesight, mood and can create emotional disturbances and swings because dopamine also affects the emotional centres of the brain.
So as we move towards Christmas and the festive season, please do spare a thought to the amount of time you will be spending on your phone.
Watching a Netflix movie on your phone may well be enjoyable, but watching the movie, then staying on social media platforms and reverting to gambling apps, can compromise your mental well-being.
Bear that in mind and consider speaking and engaging with family and friends on a face to face basis.
Sometimes, ‘old-school’ ways of engaging are the best, because they have been tried and tested for tens of thousands of years, rather than technology that has been around for only four decades.
If you are in need of private therapy support, you can contact Counselling4Anxiety via email@example.com