The use of mobile phones has strongly disrupted our habits of life , and is now a constant in a large part of the world’s countries, even in those where there are large pockets of poverty. This has meant that the use of smartphones and similar devices must be addressed by psychology in general, and by clinical and health psychology in particular.

Therefore, here we will talk to Matías Miguel López Ruiz , a psychologist with extensive experience in mobile phone addiction, which mainly affects younger people.

Matías Miguel López Ruiz: psychology applied to mobile phone addiction

Matías Miguel López Ruiz is a General Health Psychologist and a member of the team at the BarnaPsico psychology centre, located in Barcelona, in the Les Corts district. Here he tells us about his experience helping people who have come to depend constantly on their mobile phones.

What is mobile phone addiction for you?

I think the addition to the mobile arises when the user is dependent on the mobile that affects him emotionally, mentally and physically. Emotionally on their mood and personality, mentally on their academic and work performance, and physically on their body health. In other words, when it affects their daily life, disabling them when trying to have a healthy life.

What is the largest age group that is addicted to this dependency? Do you agree with the group of people who ask you for help to try to eliminate this need to be with the mobile phone all day?

Addiction can appear at any age, but it is possible that between the ages of 18 and 25 this dependence will be more common.

I mostly treat children and teenagers, and mobile phone addiction is one of the most frequent concerns of parents. It is easier to limit the time of children, but in the case of teenagers it becomes more difficult, because Whatsapp, Instagram and Facebook are the tools they use the most in their communication and social interactions.

My opinion is that applications, video games, and social networks are designed to be integrated into the collective consciousness in a natural and automated way, that is, to be part of our daily needs, in the forefront of what motivates us. In other words, it has become an automated and therefore unconscious necessity. For example, our hands automatically need to hold the mobile phone, whether or not it is useful at the time.

In your opinion, do you think that people who suffer from this dependence are aware of it, or is it a more numerous group of people who, despite denying it, have the main symptoms that determine whether they are dependent on the mobile phone or not?

Fortunately, this addiction or dependence does not occur in all people, usually only in the cases of those who present this psychological alteration that affects their personality and behavior.

Addicted people often deny it because they don’t want to get out of this dependency. People who are aware of the negative effect on their lives often ask for help, because the use of the mobile phone is deteriorating their personal, social and physical well-being. Instead of a productive tool, it becomes a suffering and its worst enemy.

How far can a person with this type of dependency go? What are the worst consequences of mobile phone addiction?

Nomaphobia is talked about as the irrational fear of factors that can cause not having the mobile phone, such as: lack of battery, out of coverage, lack of balance, when it stops working… There are people for whom this becomes a drama, altering their emotions, becoming nervous, anxious and even aggressive.

It can also lead to social isolation and lack of real communication. In adolescents, it facilitates low school performance, even school failure. In adults, lack of family communication (partner, children, etc.) and low work performance with the possibility of dismissal, among others.

The addition to the mobile phone can be one of the factors that cause some kind of mood, personality, sexual disorder… and this can lead to the need for psychological and/or psychiatric treatment.

What are the symptoms a person must have to be considered a mobile phone addict?

The main ones are:

  • Emotional, mental and physical dependence.
  • Compulsive consultations, not important or urgent.
  • Eating with a mobile phone
  • Lack of active listening and attention in conversations, because you are being attentive or using your mobile phone simultaneously.
  • Loss of social and communication skills
  • You stop playing sports or other healthy habits. Loss of interest in activities unrelated to mobile phone use.
  • Need for coverage in all places where the person is present
  • The mobile phone is always on and available.
  • Compulsive search for plugs that allow battery recharging.
  • Moodiness, frustration, anger, nerves, restlessness…

Do you think that the new generations suffer more from this type of dependence, as they use their mobile phones inappropriately (number of hours spent with them) or have had one since they were in primary school?

Even as a child, the child is predisposed to this addiction. There are parents who practically give their child their mobile phone to entertain them and leave them alone. Of course, the child gets used to it, gets addicted naturally and becomes a fixed habit, which like all fixed habits costs a lot to change, especially in adolescence and adulthood. We must be aware that technological innovations in mobile phones are increasingly seeking to capture the user’s attention, and lead them to become more dependent on this tool.

Then we should ask ourselves, among other questions: Am I at the service of the mobile and do I control it? Is the mobile at my service and do I control it? What do I use the mobile for? Do I need to spend so many hours on the mobile? How is the mobile affecting my personal and social life?

Do you think that the benefits of having a mobile phone as a work tool or as a recreational device are more than the consequences of being addicted to it due to the large number of hours usually spent with the phone?

As with everything, extremes are not good. You can make good use of new technologies, use your mobile phone constructively for work, to investigate, explore, have more culture, study, communicate (breaking the ice for the more shy), play a video game from time to time, as entertainment … I think the issue is to set limits and seek or recover other motivations and activities in life that do not require the use of mobile.

Can you avoid being a mobile phone addict? How?

Like any addiction, it can be treated and a professional can be found to help the addicted person. This professional will offer you psychological tools and techniques to face this dependence. I usually (and depending on the case) recommend, among other things, a search for other motivations.

For example, if I’ve always been motivated by sport and I’ve given it up because of my addictive use of my mobile phone, I have to get back to this hobby. Also the awareness of the damage of the use of the mobile phone: How does it affect me emotionally? How does it affect me in my relationships and social life? How does it affect me in my physical health? What has the mobile phone become to me? …