A new study says that overuse of smartphones is just like any other type of substance abuse.
The findings published in the journal NeuroRegulation also showed that those who used their phones the most reported higher levels of feeling isolated, lonely, depressed and anxious.
“The behavioural addiction of smartphone use begins forming neurological connections in the brain in ways similar to how opioid addiction is experienced by people taking Oxycontin for pain relief — gradually,” explained study co-author Erik Peper, Professor at San Francisco State University in the US.
The study involving 135 participants showed that addiction to social media technology may actually have a negative effect on social connection.
The researchers believe the loneliness is partly a consequence of replacing face-to-face interaction with a form of communication where body language and other signals cannot be interpreted.
They also found that the heaviest smartphone users almost constantly multitasked while studying, watching other media, eating or attending class.
This constant activity allows little time for bodies and minds to relax and regenerate, and also results in “semi-tasking,” where people do two or more tasks at the same time — but half as well as they would have if focused on one task at a time, Peper said.
Push notifications, vibrations and other alerts on our phones and computers make us feel compelled to look at them by triggering the same neural pathways in our brains that once alerted us to imminent danger, such as an attack by a tiger or other large predator, the researchers said.
“But now we are hijacked by those same mechanisms that once protected us and allowed us to survive — for the most trivial pieces of information,” said Peper.