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7 signs you're addicted to your smartphone

If you always seem to be using your smartphone, it's easy to jokingly say that you're addicted to it. However, your joke might have more truth in it than you think.

Smartphone addiction is a real and a growing problem. The University of Derby did a survey and determined 13 percent of respondents had a smartphone addiction. The University of Missouri has found that some people experience separation anxiety when they can't use their iPhones.

Like any addiction, a smartphone addiction can negatively impact your life, costing you friendships, jobs and health. But how do you know if you have a real addiction, or if you just use it a lot because it's essential for work or your other activities?

Let's look at some signs you might be addicted to your smartphone. We'll also look at some ways you can get started overcoming an addiction.

Disclaimer: We at Komando.com aren't trained psychologists. If you're really worried about a possible addiction for yourself or loved ones, consult a medical professional.

Any one of these signs that we're about to discuss doesn't necessarily mean that you have an addiction. However, if you recognize yourself in four or more categories, then it might be good to start seriously considering it.

1. You're always using your smartphone

This might seem obvious, but really think about how much you're holding or using your smartphone. Do you reach for it first thing in the morning to catch up on texts and news? Are you going to bed late because you're checking Facebook or playing the latest hit game?

How often do glance it at while you're at work, or with friends? Do you take it into the bathroom with you? Do you wake up in the middle of the night to check it? Do you use it during intimate moments with your significant other (one scary survey says 1 in 4 people do)?

If you're using an Android phone, grab an app like RescueTime to see exactly how much you're using the phone and what you're doing on it. Otherwise, keep some sticky notes handy and make a check mark for every time you look at it or use it.

According to WebMD, a 2011 study found the average smartphone user checks it 35 times a day for about 30 seconds each time. That still sounds a little high to us, but if you're checking more than that, or you're spending hours and hours on it at a time, then you might want to dial it back.

2. Using your smartphone makes you feel good

Addictions happen because the activity you're doing triggers the pleasure center in your brain, giving you a "high." So ask yourself just how happy you feel when your phone buzzes to say you have a text, or you download a new app. There's nothing wrong with a little enjoyment, but if you sense an instant mood change every time you go to use your phone, then there could be a problem.

You also might notice that instead of doing things that you used to enjoy, like reading a book, listening to music or going out with a friend, you're spending time on your phone instead. You need a balance of things in your life that you enjoy. When one thing crowds out everything else, then it's time to take action.

3. Your smartphone use increases

In an addiction, it gradually gets harder to get that pleasurable "high" you're after, so you have to step up the activity. For smartphone use, that means you're using it more and more: downloading more apps, checking your texts or emails obsessively, just swiping through the home screen, etc.

If you start to track the time you spend on your smartphone, as suggested in point one, and notice that the time you spend is constantly increasing, then that's a warning sign.

4. You can't be without it

Quick challenge: The next time you have a lazy day around the house, lock your smartphone in a drawer and don't look at it for 8 hours. Too much? How about 4 hours? Still too much? Try 1 hour.

Did you do OK, or did you feel stressed, irritable or anxious? Were you able to do something else, or did you spend the whole time wishing you could check your phone?

If you can't go any reasonable length of time without thinking about your smartphone, or if you feel a physical difference when you're away from it, then you're looking at withdrawal, which means you have an addiction.

5. It creates conflict

Have you ever had anyone, especially a close friend or family member, tell you that you use the phone too much? Maybe they don't like that you pull it out during meals, or keep checking it while on vacation. Perhaps you ran up a huge overage bill from going over your data limits.

If you got defensive and it turned into a full-blown argument, then that should tell you something. Whether you had a real reason to check, such as work, or you just were doing it habitually, something in your life needs to adjust.

It isn't just in your home life. Maybe your manager at work tells you to put your phone away, but you can't help pulling it back out again. If the need to use your phone outweighs the risk of getting in trouble or even being fired, then your priorities are off.

6. It puts you in danger

Texting while driving is a serious problem, resulting in more than a million crashes every year. In fact, using your phone while driving increases your risk of crashing up to 23 times. However, look around on the road and far too many people are still doing it.

Some just think that it doesn't affect their driving, but some drivers literally can't make an entire trip to work or the store without checking their phone. Or perhaps they get a text notification and can't help looking to see who it was.

When using your phone puts your life in danger, but you can't stop using it, then that should be a wake-up call. Oh, and in case this thought it running through your head, it doesn't matter how good of a driver you are, or what "precautions" you take, looking at your phone while driving is always dangerous.

7. You can't stop

Maybe you read the above points and realized you might have a problem if just a slight one. So you decide you're only going to use your phone when you need to, and the rest of the time you won't look at it.

Maybe it works for a day or two, but then you find yourself using the phone just as much as you did before. That's called a relapse, and its a common problem for addicts. At that point, we recommend getting some outside help.

Ideas to start dealing with smartphone addiction

If you think you're truly addicted, seeing a professional therapist or counselor is probably the best thing you can do. They can help you develop a plan or recommend support groups. Even if it turns out you just have a mild dependency, it's still good to catch it early and keep it from getting worse.

If you need to go cold turkey, you can look into a program like reSTART. It offers an 8-to-12-week retreat that gets you completely away from technology and helps you create a plan for avoiding addiction in the future.

On your own, you can work with a friend or family member to slowly get a handle on your use. For example, you could go to lunch with a friend and let them hold your phone for you so you can't check it. Or maybe you could let a spouse lock up your phone at night.

Determine what triggers your phone use, such as being bored or anxious, and tackle the underlying causes. For example, find an alternative to using the smartphone such as reading a book or breathing exercises.

Another option is to switch from a smartphone to a basic feature phone. While you'll still be tempted to check for texts, you won't have millions of apps, streaming videos or the internet beckoning you.

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