39% of young people show signs of phone addiction no matter how much screen time they get

Tuesday, 2nd March 2021, 12:34 pm
Updated Tuesday, 2nd March 2021, 12:34 pm
Screen time is not an indicator of smartphone addiction, according to a new study (Photo: Carl Court/Getty Images)
Screen time is not an indicator of smartphone addiction, according to a new study (Photo: Carl Court/Getty Images)

More than a third of young adults have reported experiencing symptoms of smartphone addiction according to a new study - regardless of how much time they spend on their device each day.

King’s College London research has found that 39 per cent of people aged between 18 and 30 reported symptoms such as losing control over how long they spend on their phone, feeling distressed when they cannot access their device, and neglecting other areas of their life.

A validated tool known as the smartphone addiction scale was used as part of the study, despite smartphone addiction not being formally recognised as a clinical diagnosis.

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The research found that more than two thirds of those showing signs of smartphone addiction reported poor sleep, regardless of the amount of time they spent looking at their device.

Around a quarter of those who showed signs of addiction used their phone for three hours a day, and a further 18.5 per cent said they used their device for more than five hours each day.

‘Screen time not synonymous with addiction’

The conclusion of the study states: “Using a validated instrument, 39 per cent of young adults reported smartphone addiction.

“Smartphone addiction was associated with poor sleep, independent of duration of usage, indicating that length of time should not be used as a proxy for harmful usage.”

The study explained that smartphone addiction occurs “more frequently amongst younger adults”, and that screen time is not synonymous with addiction.

The study used responses from 1,043 participants, and matched their replies to the addiction tool. The study found that 406 people met the criteria for smartphone addiction.

‘Smartphones have a negative impact on sleep’

Samantha Sohn, lead author at King’s College London’s Institute of Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience (ioPPN), said: “Smartphones are increasingly becoming indispensable parts of our daily lives, and this study is an important step in looking at their impact in terms of dysfunctional use and on sleep in a UK population.”

Dr Ben Carter, senior lecturer at ioPPN, said: “Our study provides further support to the growing body of evidence that smartphone ‘addiction’ has a negative impact on sleep.

“However, the association is still significant even after adjusting for daily screen time use.

“Although daily length of smartphone use is an exposure of poor sleep, it is not the only determining factor and our findings demonstrate a validated smartphone addiction instrument offers greater explanation.

“It also shows that the impact of sleep quality and smartphone addiction is down to more than how long we are using our phones for. This could help clinicians when treating children and adults with sleeping difficulties about how they identify problematic usage.”

‘Harmful phone usage’

Dr Nicola Kalk, visiting clinical lecturer at ioPPN and addiction psychiatrist at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, argues that the study shows screen time is not the main indicator of harmful phone use.

She said: “This study makes clear that it is features of behavioural addiction rather than exposure time that is predictive of smartphone associated harm.

“It is particularly interesting that many respondents reported trying strategies to limit their smartphone use, and those who endorsed features of addiction had tried multiple strategies.”