Nomophobia is a term first coined by British researchers during 2008 to denote people who experienced anxiety when they had no access to mobile technology—such as their mobile phones.
Not only has the term gained acceptance since 2008, a more recent study of 1,000 individuals showed that the percentage of people who feared losing their phone had increased from 53 percent to 66 percent.
Those between the ages of 18 and 24 were most dependent on mobile technology. Seventy-seven percent were uncomfortable away from their phones for more than a few minutes. Those 25 to 34 were only a bit behind, with 68 percent expressing similar feelings.
Anxiety about going phone-less manifests itself in telltale signs. People who are said to suffer with nomophobia report being unable to turn their phones off—ever. They worry over running out of battery power. They constantly check for new emails and text messages and calls. And they don’t even want to go to the restroom without their phones.
If this sounds like much to do about nothing, it isn’t. When human beings feel at a loss without mobile technology to anchor their moods and make them feel safe and content, then they are vulnerable to limiting interpersonal contact that interferes with their access to that technology. That can mean less outdoor activity, less conversation, less intimacy and less reliance on one’s own fund of knowledge and ability to structure time and tasks.
Needing anything in order to feel normal and free from panic—whether a phone or three glasses of wine—is a disability.
It should come as no surprise and is a welcome event, therefore, that a leading drug and alcohol recovery center has founded the first recovery group for people suffering with nomophobia. The group, the brainchild of Dr. Elizabeth Waterman of Morningside Recovery Center in California, helps people recognize the signs and symptoms of their over-reliance on mobile technology, explore the psychological roots of their vulnerability to becoming addicted to it and master emotional, cognitive and behavioral techniques to regain their autonomy.
Hopefully, Morningside Recovery Center’s program will motivate others to take its lead in actually putting an addiction to mobile technology—including cell phone messages and Facebook updates—on par with tobacco and alcohol dependence. Because people really do need help overcoming it.
While it is clearly not as toxic to one’s lungs or liver as drugs or alcohol, it can be just as toxic to one’s self-determination and relationships and may actually make people more vulnerable to other addictions. It seems possible, in fact, that mobile technology could be a “gateway drug” that fuels the search for self-defeating, counterproductive anti-anxiety strategies—like using marijuana or alcohol to keep uncomfortable feelings at bay.
Keith Ablow, MD is a psychiatrist, and was host of the nationally-syndicated "Dr. Keith Ablow Show." He is a former member of the Fox News Medical A Team.