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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings

Smartphone and Social Media Addiction


Own your shit


Over the years, I’ve heard a lot about smartphone and social media addiction. When reviewing data related to this phenomenon, I’ve observed a tendency of people to demonize phones, social platforms, and corporations rather than to account for personal agency concerning this matter.


As an example, person X perceivably cannot be held to account for his use or abuse of a smartphone, because he supposedly has no power or ability to control his behavior. Rather, ominous apps – with their varied operant and classical conditioning mechanisms – are said to govern how person X behaves.


I disagree with this proposition. After all, I’m a Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) practitioner who concludes that people maintain personal responsibility and accountability (collectively, “ownership”) for their behavior.


Given an example of personal ownership, person Y neglects her occupational obligations (responsibilities) when interfacing with her smartphone while devoting a considerable amount of time to social media engagement. As a result of her behavior, person Y’ employment is terminated (accountability).


While person Y may irrationally conclude that she cannot be held liable for her actions, perhaps due to an unhelpful belief regarding a lack of personal agency, person Y is the sole entity who owns the unpleasant outcome she experiences. There simply is no malevolent force that compelled person Y to behave as she did.


Although it may be a somewhat unpopular opinion within certain sectors of the mental, emotional, and behavioral health care field (collectively, “mental health”), I encourage individuals to own their shit (i.e., consequences of irrational beliefs).


As such, I reject ascribing a victimhood label to people who experience self-sabotaging behavior that correlates with smartphone and social media use or abuse. If you cannot realize your interests and goals, because you willfully refuse to change your behavior, then own your shit.


Defining terms


Prior to going further, it may be helpful to define terms. The American Psychological Association describes addiction thusly:


[A] state of psychological and/or physical dependence on the use of drugs or other substances, such as alcohol, or on activities or behaviors. The term is often used as an equivalent term for substance use disorder or substance dependence and can be applied to non-substance-related behavioral addictions, such as sex, exercise, and gambling.


When working with clients who report addictions (i.e., alcohol, porn, etc.), I assess the level of impairment and not merely the frequency or duration of use or abuse. For instance, client X may play videogames for eight hours per day, though he sustains gainful employment, attends to his familial responsibilities, and doesn’t struggle with activities of daily living (e.g., feeding).


Because client X doesn’t report significant impairment in either occupational or social spheres of his life, I wouldn’t consider his videogame-related behavior as an addiction. Other practitioners of mental health may disagree with my assessment.


Additionally, I differentiate between use and abuse by examining which of these terms impact impairment. If casual consumption of marijuana doesn’t impair the spheres of client Y’s life, I would consider her behavior within the use category.


However, if client Y is frequently involved in physical altercations, has repeated interactions with law enforcement, or overspends on cannabis products while enduring financial hardship; I would favor an abuse category. Aside from use and abuse, there’s also consideration of dependence.


Suppose client Z reports that he has a persistent pattern of repeated alcohol abuse that results in a strong internal drive to continue abuse, he’s established tolerance to the effects of the substance, and client Z experiences withdrawal symptoms if abuse is suspended; this would constitute the dependence category.


Examining the data


“Peer review” may be described as evaluation of scientific, academic, or professional work by others working in the same field. Despite the peer review system serving as the “gold standard for scientific publishing,” it’s incredibly flawed.


Per one source, “A systematic review of all the available evidence on peer review concluded that ‘the practice of peer review is based on faith in its effects, rather than on facts.” Through practice of REBT, I understand that unconditional life acceptance is necessary to tolerate incalculable flaws inherent in the scientific foundation of human knowledge.


Despite the fallibility of peer review, it’s the predominate system available for data related to smartphone and social media addiction. Therefore, I will draw upon this imperfect information to inform my perspective herein.


A number of studies were examined when drafting this blogpost. Much of the data were indicative of some level of impairment in assessed populations. However, the subjectivity of impairment makes this sort of data somewhat convoluted.


For instance, one source claims, “Four technological addictions including Internet addiction, social media addiction, digital game addiction and smartphone addiction significantly affect social connectedness.” Upon what form of social connectedness is this conclusion dependent, digital or physical?


A separate study discovered that “74.3% of smartphone users [were] feeling dependency on the use of [a] smartphone” and that “a significant number of the participants had addiction to mobile phone usage, but were not aware on it.” First, a feeling is that which relates to an emotion or bodily sensation.


One cannot feel dependence, as an individual either is or isn’t dependent on use of a smartphone, or merely believes oneself to be addicted. Second, ignorance of addiction begs the question about one’s level of impairment.


I drink water throughout the day. However, my behavior isn’t indicative of impairment. However, if I were consuming three gallons of water per day, I imagine I’d know whether or not my occupational and social spheres would be impacted.


One study involving high school participants suggests that “wanting to be liked, become popular, or meet new people – which are made possible through social media applications – may lead to smartphone addiction.” Couldn’t the same argument be made about sports, band, or even a debate club?


A separate source, with which I partially agree, concluded, “The truth about smartphone addiction is that people are not addicted to their smartphone, they are addicted to the information, entertainment, and personal connections it delivers.” If impairment from addiction is present, smartphones and social media platforms are merely a means to an end.


One study examined this matter and reports that certain personality traits – and not specifically smartphone activity – account for addictive behavior. This proposition comports with what one source suggests about personality correlating with criminality.


As an example, if person X has higher levels of neuroticism and lower levels of conscientiousness, he may spend more time engaging social media content on his smartphone than person Y who has lower levels of neurotic traits and higher levels of conscientiousness.


Therefore, it stands to reason that smartphones and social media aren’t solely attributed to addictive behaviors as much as individual personality traits which may better explain addiction. This proposal aligns with personal ownership more so than the demonization of phones, platforms, and corporations.


The final source worthy of mentioning herein succinctly explains:


Although the majority of research in the field declares that smartphones are addictive or takes the existence of smartphone addiction as granted, we did not find sufficient support from the addiction perspective to confirm the existence of smartphone addiction at this time. The behaviors observed in the research could be better labeled as problematic or maladaptive smartphone use and their consequences do not meet the severity levels of those caused by addiction.


Noteworthy, this source verifies what I’ve discovered while writing this blog entry. Ample evidence from peer-reviewed sources suggests that smartphone and social media are addictive.


However, the manner in which data were collected, interpreted, and reported upon appears to be based on faith in its effects, rather than on facts. With loosely-defined terms relating to addiction, one could make a case for addiction to virtually anything (e.g., average water consumption).


Ultimately, persecution of smartphones and social media – as though these seemingly sinister forces plague society while users are absolved of ownership, due to the possessive nature of these evil elements – isn’t entirely based on the scientific process.


Thus, examination of the data is akin to review of The Exorcist (1973). Some people may irrationally believe in its premise, though I maintain doubt about its authenticity and replicability.




Although many of my mental health peers may disagree with my perspective, I don’t consider the existence of smartphones and social media to be corrupting elements within society. This is because I maintain that people have agency and can own their shit by taking ownership for their own self-disturbed outcomes.


When assessing clients for addiction, I consider elements of use, abuse, and dependence. As well, I examine the spheres of occupational and social impairment.


While detoxing from alcohol, benzodiazepines, barbiturates, and other potentially addictive substances may require inpatient hospitalization, I work with people in an outpatient setting for a wide-ranging host of perceivably addictive issues.


Generally, it isn’t gambling, sex, or even smartphones or social media which are the problem. Typically, an individual’s unproductive beliefs about any given element (e.g., tobacco) are what cause unpleasant consequences (i.e., emotions, bodily sensations, and behavior).


This REBT-centric perspective is why I remain leery of data related to smartphone and social media addiction. If a study maintains that use or abuse is inherently bad, and then examines the effects of this moralistic fallacy, the illogical and unreasonable conclusion of research into this matter will naturally support the faulty premise.


To what may a person point which wouldn’t succumb to this sort of irrational scrutiny? Then again, for all I know, I may have a water addiction.


Of the resources assessed when drafting this blogpost, I’ve highlighted one study in particular that adequately identified a relevant issue of concern. The authors concluded that although maladaptive behaviors which related to smartphone use were of interest, these actions weren’t significant enough to constitute severity levels of behavior associated with addiction.


Those who wish to demonize smartphones and social media while depriving people of agency, responsibility, and accountability are welcome to disagree. After all, there are plenty of available psychotherapists who remain prepared to foster victimhood of this sort.


Nevertheless, I reject the dogmatic practice of diminishing the capacity of human beings by convincing people that they can’t improve their own level of functioning and quality of life. If my empowering approach to mental health is something in which you may be interested, I remain ready to assist.


If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life—helping you to sharpen your critical thinking skills, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.


As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.


At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!



Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW




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