A decade into the iPhone age, such devices feel like extensions of our bodies. Screens stay so attached to us — whether in hand, in pocket, or strapped to the arm on a morning jog — that concerns of addiction can seem quaint.
They shouldn’t, said Edwin Salsitz, M.D., an addiction medicine specialist at Mount Sinai Beth Israel in New York City.
Psychiatry’s so-called Bible of mental disorders, the DSM, doesn’t mention phone addictions, Salsitz points out, nor does it address addictive behaviors around shopping, porn, or food. Many think it should, though, he said.
“Clearly something potentially damaging is going on with us in regards to screens,” said Salsitz, who’s spent decades treating addiction.
All addiction starts with pleasure, Salsitz said. New texts, tweets and Instagram likes flood the brain with dopamine, a key chemical in addiction, he said. Such tech-fueled pleasure rushes can create a heightened new norm that, unsustained, leaves us able to plunge into feelings of disappointment.
The brain doesn’t like that, Salsitz said.
“The brain likes a pretty steady, smooth level of dopamine,” he said. “So a lot of screen activity time, I think, is a hectic way to live, to constantly be checking and thinking about it.”
Salsitz knows many can’t work without mobile devices, with employers increasingly requiring round-the-clock availability. He thinks that pressure may one day wane (look at laws already regulating phone use while driving, he said). But not all phone use leads to addiction, he said, just as not all…