Guest Blogs

“My Phone Was My Drug”

I was checking my phone up to 50 times a day. At stop lights. In the checkout line. When I should have been listening to the people around me. I was addicted, so I asked my psychiatrist to help. His answer shocked me — and changed my life.

First, I deleted my Instagram app. Then Snapchat. And finally, Facebook got the boot as well.

I’d read every article about Internet addictions, and was convinced I had one. I couldn’t sit still for longer than 20 seconds before I (almost unconsciously) opened my phone and began searching for something interesting.

But, no matter how many apps I deleted and no matter how much I tried to force myself put down my phone, I couldn’t resist. I’d find other ways to entertain myself, ways I thought might be “healthier.” I bet you didn’t know how interesting the News app is! I read every article I could find, skimmed through every topic, and found myself still on my phone as much as ever.

I had completely given up on ever defeating this habit, and resigned myself to a life attached to my phone… until one warm afternoon, my psychiatrist gently revealed a diagnosis to me: attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD).

I was shocked.

[Self-Test: Could You Have ADHD?]

In tears, I finally realized why I had been experiencing such an overwhelming desire for entertainment and distraction. ADHD restricts the brain’s neurotransmitters associated with pleasure and reward. Simply speaking, I was under-stimulated due to a lack of dopamine, and my phone provided me with a “hit” of this essential compound. While someone with an Internet addiction may find life outside of their virtual world boring and lonely, my Internet use was actually feeding my brain just enough to help me function (well, almost) in everyday life.

At the time, I’ll admit I was guilty of thinking, “ADHD? Isn’t that for kids who can’t behave themselves in school?” Statistics from 2013 tell us that 11% of children were diagnosed with ADHD, but only about 4% of adults. Since ADHD isn’t something most people outgrow, there is a glaring problem with only 4% of adults having a diagnosis. Even worse, of those who were found to have adult ADHD, only 25% have received treatment. If you do some math, this means that there are 74 million adults in the U.S. not receiving treatment for a serious brain disorder.

74 million. This number is larger than the number of people who have had, or currently have, any type of cancer living in the U.S. This number is larger than the number of homeless people combined with the number of people living below the poverty line. Yet, ADHD is dismissed as a disorder for children.

Interestingly enough, many adults diagnosed with ADHD were previously treated for other disorders, such as anxiety and depression. Guess what else made the list? Internet addictions. Impulsivity is a common symptom of ADHD and it’s also strongly associated with Internet addictions. Similar to ADHD, though, the effects of Internet exposure are mostly studied in children and adolescents. It’s possible that adults tend to use the Internet for work and research, so they don’t necessarily report their usage interfering with their life.

[Free Resource: Finish Your To-Do List TODAY]

If you find yourself struggling to stay away from your phone or laptop, and somehow, despite urgent deadlines, you’re still scrolling through Facebook, it’s entirely possible that your restlessness or impulsivity is ADHD related. I know mine was.

Now, after being treated, I have the ability to control my usage, something I definitely didn’t have before. Imagine being able to buckle down and finish that project, a day earlier than your deadline! Imagine awwwing over Clyde The Bully, then putting your phone down and calmly carrying on with your taxes. The freedom you could experience is worth a trip to your psychiatrist, if you feel that the Internet has claimed your life.

Self-evaluation can be a great tool in determining your next step. Did you actually read through this article, or did you skip down to the conclusion? If I caught you, maybe you should take a step back and check if your craving for stimulation and new information is more than just a bad habit. Whether an Internet addiction is associated with untreated ADHD or something else, seeing a psychiatrist is never a bad idea.

If you saw any of yourself in my story, perhaps it’s time to ask for help and, in the process, discover a whole new you, capable of all the things you put your mind to. A You who faces challenges with confidence, and emerges victorious with strength renewed. Let this be the sign you’ve been waiting for.

[Do I Have ADD? Symptoms & Myths About ADHD in Adults]

2 Related Links

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  2. Would be good to check that math again. The 74 million number is not possible; that would be over 20% of the entire US population of ~326 million, which includes all children. That’s not just more than could possibly be untreated, it is more than could possibly have ADHD!

    I gather the idea is to carry that 11% of children have ADHD stat to the adult population. Using that percentage of the 326 million population you’d have 36 million total in the US with ADHD. That’s including children and adults, so you would need some stats that determine how much of the population is each. The percentage of population under 18 years of age is in the low 20s, 24% at the 2010 census, and predicted tick down to 23%, so I’ll use 23% to give a higher potential number of adults (in other words, I will be conservative in my revision of the number).

    So, we take 77% of 36 million which is 28 million (rounding up generously) adults with ADHD. (If you like you can take 77% of 326 million, which gives you 251 million total adults, then 11% of that which is still 28 million.) So only 28 million adults can have ADHD in the first place if we use the childhood prevalence figure of 11%.

    According to the above guest blog (my only source for this stat because I’ve already spent too much time on this), only 25% of those 28 million adults are getting treatment. 28 million is a nice easy number for that stat, which would mean 7 million adults with ADHD getting treatment and 21 million adults with ADHD not getting treatment.

    So I’m confident enough after that exercise to insist the number of untreated adults with ADHD is -no more than- 21 million. It could be less, but there’s very little way it could be more. It’s still a pretty hefty number of people to have not receiving treatment for their serious brain disorder, but it’s not so dramatic as 3.5 times that many.

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