by Andrea M. Darcy
Sometimes come out of a texting marathon to realise with shock an hour or more has passed? Or feel like your mood depends on hearing that ‘ping’ of a return text? Could you be addicted to texting?
What is ‘harmful use’?
If you aren’t sure if you are or aren’t addicted to texting, it can pay to look at the official definitions that apply to abuse of other substances.
According to the ICD-10, the diagnostic manual published by the World Health Organisation and used in the UK and Europe, you have an issue with a substance and can classify for ‘harmful use’ if, over the last month or on-and-off for a twelve month period, your addictive substance:
“was responsible for (or substantially contributed to) physical or psychological harm, including impaired judgement or dysfunctional behaviour”.
When it comes to texting, what could that look like?
- sore hands and neck
- feeling glum after texting
- allowing texting to disrupt bed time and sleep
- Saying things you regret
- prioritising texting over things like time with friends and family or work
- creating destructive drama between you and others.
Sound a bit too familiar?
When overuse becomes addiction
As for full blown addiction, the ICD-10 terms this ‘dependence syndrome’. Again, it’s a habit that has been going on for one full month, or periodically over a year. And it means that you:
- have an overwhelming compulsion or desire to engage with the substance
- can’t really control your partaking
- have withdrawal symptoms if you try to reduce or stop your use
- need more and more of a substance to feel good
- think about the substance all the time
- continue using the substance even when it’s clear it’s harming you and your life.
How could that translate to texting? For starters, notice if you get a sort spaced out, ‘high’ feeling when you text. Do you stop noticing everything else and feel ‘cocooned’ in your text world? Then ask yourself:
- Do I feel an overwhelming desire to text?
- Can I control myself, or do I text things before I know what I am doing and regret it later?
- Do I feel good when texting, but then unhappy, moody, anxious, or panicky if someone doesn’t text back?
- Do my moods rely on communication by text?
- Has my text use risen a lot lately?
- Am I constantly thinking about what I will text, or if the other person will text? Constantly waiting for a ping, checking my phone?
- Am I aware that I am over texting someone, making a fool of myself, or saying things I’ll regret? But can’t stop?
- Have I even destroyed a relationship or opportunity because of texting?
But is being addicted to texting a proven issue?
There is as of yet no hard research about the addiction of just texting. But the studies are certainly coming in about the addiction of mobile devices.
A survey of over a thousand families in California found that one in two teens felt addicted to their mobile devices, for example.
In fact 48% of parents in the study admitted they themselves felt the ‘need’ to immediately respond to texts, and a shocking 56% admitted to checking their mobiles while driving. Taking risks is a known indicator of addiction.
And women might be more at risk than men. A Korean study of over 500 students created a ‘smartphone addiction scale’ asking questions about things like whether you bought your smartphone to the toilet with you, or had tried to stop using it so much and failed.
It found that females were more likely to be addicted, although that could be because they were also more likely to be aware of their smartphone addiction than their male counterparts.
Your brain on texts
Furthermore, there are things about our favoured modern method of communication that lend it to being addictive.
One is related to our dopamine levels. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter (a chemical messenger in the brain) connected to feelings of pleasure and reward, that then motivate us to continue an activity and seek that feeling of reward again and again.
And as a review on research around dopamine in drug use and addiction points out, it is not just our dopamine levels increasing that leads to addiction, but how fast they increase. “The faster the increases, the more intense the reinforcing effects.”
The very speed of our favoured modern form of communication, the way we can send and receive messages in a second? And gain someone’s attention from anywhere? Might lend it to be more addictive than other activities.
Communication addiction disorder
But how can communication be addictive? When it’s something we all do? One answer predates smart phone use.
Way back in 1999 a paper came out of Cornell University in the States called, “Communication Addiction Disorder: Concern over Media, Behaviour and Effects”. It was written to show that the disorder exists, but was rather tongue in cheek, making fun of the idea that people who talk a lot are ‘addicts’.
But it drew a serious conclusion – that often, when we do over-communicate, there can be another issue behind it, much like when we over drink, or over use party drugs.
Mostly, it pointed out, we are lonely. Or we feel pressured by life. Communication is a respite. And it’s the respite, not the communication, that can be addictive.
This is supported by much more recent research, such as a 2014 study from Turkey that concluded, “loneliness was found to be among the predictors of problematic Internet use.”
5 questions to ask if you are addicted to texting
- What is it I really want from all this texting? (Love, attention, to feel good, to be heard?)
- Is this texting actually making me feel good, or might I feel worse after?
- What is the price I am going to pay or what am I giving up in order to indulge in a text-a-thon? (Self respect, time I could spend looking for a job, leaving something important to the last minute..)
- Is it helping or hindering my relationship with the person texting?
- What could I do instead of texting that would help me feel good and connected?
Have an issue with impulsive communication and it’s leaving you lonely? We connect you with top rated London talk therapists who can help. Or use our booking platform to find UK-wide affordable therapy and online counselling.
Still have a question about being addicted to texting? Or want to share your advice with other readers? Use the comment box below.
Andrea M. Darcy is a mental health and wellbeing expert and personal development teacher. With training in person-centred counselling and coaching, she often writes about trauma and relationships. She for sure was addicted to texting at one point! Find her on Linkedin and @am_darcy.