by Darius Crayton

Pew Research found that 81% of Americans owned smartphones in 2019. Nearly three-quarters of adult Americans owned a desktop or laptop, and roughly half owned a tablet. These numbers are not necessarily shocking because technology has infiltrated almost every facet of human life. While most view technology as an asset, some researchers warn that too much time in front of screens can lead to “digital addiction.”

How to Identify Digital Addiction

Unsurprisingly, one out of eight Americans suffer from digital addiction. Digital addiction can include many activities ,such as online gambling, shopping, gaming or social media. Screen use is such an essential part of everyday life, making it increasingly difficult to notice an addiction. The difference between daily use and addiction is how a person responds when their online activities are interrupted. An individual may have crossed the line from everyday use to addiction if they:

  • Opt to spend time on a device rather than with family or friends
  • Become defensive when confronted aboutonline activities
  • Minimize or try to hide their screen when someoneenters the room
  • Are increasingly anxious or agitated

Physical Effects

Digital addiction can also have severe and possibly long-term physical effects on the body.

  • Eye Strain
    • Eye strain is increasingly common among Americans who regularly use digital devices. The light that devices emit can adversely affect a person’s eyes. A USATODAY survey found that 70% of adults in America have experienced some of the following symptoms:
      • Blurred vision
      • Red, irritated and dry eyes
      • Headaches
  • Poor Posture
    • Research shows prolonged use of cellphones, tablets and computers can result in a sustained forward neck posture. This condition occurs when individuals extend their neck and upper spine because they are looking down at a digital device. Over time, this movement can injure the cervical and lumbar spine as well ascertain ligaments. Sustained forward neck posture can cause long-term pain and other health issues, such as respiratory issues, headaches and more.
  • Blemishes Caused by Bacteria
    • According to the British watchdog group “Which?”, cellphones, keyboards and tablets contain more bacteria than a public toilet seat. While most would hopefully never put their face on a public toilet, people constantly touch their digital devices with their hands and faces. Most people do not clean their devices daily. Many devices have traces of cold and flu virus, meningitis, staphylococcus, etc. Devices collect makeup, oils and dirt from the skin and places the device goes. Overtime, this combination aggravates acne and eczema, causing unwanted blemishes. Studies show that acne tends to lower self-esteem and puts sufferers at a higher risk for depression.
  • Hand Cramps
    • The phrase “text claw” is an increasingly popular phrase that describes what happens to a person’s hands and wrists when they overuse their digital devices. When a person uses a smartphone, they engage numerous muscles in their hands, wrists and forearms. Over time, one may notice that continuous use can cause hand and wrist cramping and discomfort. For most people, it isn’t a huge deal. However, doctors warn that people that suffer from digital addiction can develop tendonitis or carpal tunnel from untreated hand and wrist cramps. Without treatment, digital addiction can permanently weaken muscles in the wrists and hands.
  • Withdrawals
    • Pew Research Center found that about 42% of teens felt anxious when they weren’t near their phones. Another 25% reported feeling lonely, and another24% reported feeling angry when they were not near their phones. Altogether, a whopping 56% of teens reported feeling negative emotions whenever they were away from their phones. Iowa State University researchers created a test to identify digital addiction. Those who agree with the following statements should limit the time they spend with their digital devices:
      • I would be uncomfortable if I couldn’t quickly look up information on my smartphone.
      • If I couldn’t instantly look up information on my smartphone, I would be annoyed.
      • I would feel anxious if I couldn’t constantly communicate with others.
      • I would not know what to do without my devices.

What to Do Now?

Researchers recommend spending more time on non-screen activities like hobbies, sports and face-to-face time with family, friends and loved ones for those who suffer from digital addiction. It may help to find an addiction counselor or recovery center that treats digital addictions. Several services are available, including the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration(SAMHSA) which has a helpline to call.