“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.
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.
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.
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.