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While a smartphone, tablet, or computer can be a hugely productive tool, compulsive use of these devices can interfere with your daily life, work, and relationships. When you spend more time on social media or playing games than you do interacting with real people, or you can’t stop yourself from repeatedly checking texts, emails, news feeds, websites, or apps—even when it has negative consequences in your life—it may be time to reassess your technology use.

By learning about the signs and symptoms of smartphone and Internet addiction and the ways to break free of the habit, you can better balance your life, online and off.

What is smartphone addiction?

Smartphone addiction, sometimes colloquially known as “nomophobia” (fear of being without a mobile phone), is often fueled by an Internet overuse problem or Internet addiction disorder. After all, it’s rarely the phone or tablet itself that creates the compulsion, but rather the games, apps, and online worlds it connects us to.

Smartphone addiction can encompass a variety of impulse-control problems, including:

Virtual relationships. Addiction to social networking, dating apps, texting, and messaging can extend to the point where virtual, online friends become more important than real-life relationships. We’ve all seen the couples sitting together in a coffee shop or restaurant ignoring each other and engaging with their smartphones instead. While the Internet can be a great place to meet new people, reconnect with old friends, or even start romantic relationships, online relationships are not a healthy substitute for real life interactions. Online friends tend to exist in a bubble, not subject to the same demands or stresses as messy real-world relationships. Since few real-life relationships can compete with these neat, virtual relationships, you may find yourself spending more and more time with online friends, retreating from your real world family and friends. Compulsive use of dating apps can change your focus to short-term hookups instead of developing long-term relationships.

Online compulsions, such as gaming, gambling, stock trading, online shopping, or bidding on auction sites like eBay can often lead to financial and job-related problems. While gambling addiction has been a well-documented problem for years, the availability of Internet gambling has made gambling far more accessible.

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Smartphone Addiction: Tips for Breaking Free of Compulsive Smartphone Use