SMART Recovery Australia doesn’t discriminate between harmful addictive behaviours. At any of our meetings, you’re statistically most likely to encounter people with problems surrounding alcohol consumption, but the consumption of illegal drugs, gambling, gaming, sex and pornography are prevalent in SMART Recovery groups across Australia. In our modern hyper-connected world, one rather recent development is internet addiction. You might have seen our piece on gaming addiction “boot camps”, commonplace through Southeast Asia, and popping up in the United States.

A recent study revealed that 50% of teenagers felt that they were addicted to their smartphones. Of course, conversations about smartphone or technology addiction are often accompanied by knee-jerk reactions from people who grew up without the ubiquity of modern technology, and such studies are frequently accused of fear-mongering by the tech community. However, Apple CEO Steve Jobs kept his own children under strict supervision, famously stating that they didn’t use iPads. In fact, many tech executives are well aware of the “dangers” of overexposure to the very products they sell to the rest of us.

The question here isn’t one of technology being good or bad, however. Your smartphone, computer, tablet and every other internet-enabled device is a tool, and the value of a tool is determined by the person using it. In fact, if our web analytics are right, you’re probably reading this on a smartphone right now!

Any addiction is defined as a repeated behaviour that a person engages in despite knowing it has harmful consequences. Calgar Yildrum, assistant professor of human computer interaction who created the scale for use in his research at State University of New York at Oswego, says that the research team at his university are only concerned about smartphone usage “if it starts to interfere with your daily life“. The risks of experiencing severe anxiety upon separation from your mobile phone are numerous. Overuse can interfere with your social life, sleep patterns, work, hobbies, and eating habits. Apart from nobody wanting to hang around with someone who is irritable, tired, and hungry, there are real dangers posed by this behaviour: according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, mobile phone use is partially to blame for the distracted driving that kills an estimated nine people each day, injuring over one thousand. Injuries to pedestrians crossing the road, on the other hand, multiplied by ten between 2005 and 2010.

Some evidence from Dr Max Wintermark, a neurologist at Stanford University, suggests that chronic smartphone users exhibit shorter attention spans, slower brain function, and higher rates of anxiety and depression. This, however, comes from a small study, and, as the doctor says himself, should be taken with a grain of salt.

However sensationalist the media response to this might be, the focus on harms is critical to battling and overcoming addiction. Rather than treating smartphone-addicted teens like they are diseased or their usage is beyond their control, teaching them self-management and focusing on the consequences of their overuse is, almost to the letter, the approach that works so well for SMART Recovery Australia. Our meetings use cognitive behaviour therapy techniques to help participants build the skills and strategies they need to overcome their addictive behaviour, and establishing the discrepancy between the desire to engage in that behaviour and the consequences thereof is critical to this process.

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