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Indiana Prevention Resource Center (IPRC)

Addicted to Your Cellphone?

Leave it up to funnyman Aziz Ansari from NBC’s Parks and Recreation to put a comedic twist on an increasingly prevalent issue. Ansari portrays Tom Haverford, a sarcastic, underachieving government official for the city of Pawnee, Indiana. In a recent episode, Tom is sentenced by a judge to a week without screens after wrecking his car into a fire hydrant caused by texting and driving. After a day at the office without screens, Tom suffers major technology withdrawals and eventually exclaims that “life without screens is pointless.” Tom’s concerned colleague Ron Swanson decides that Tom needs to detox and invites him to his cabin deep in the woods. It is there that Ron asks Tom to purge his technology urges by talking about all the things he uses it for in a day. And so he begins:

“Every day, I start by hitting up Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram. Sometimes, I like to throw in Linkedin. …Then I like to go on Reddit.”

He continues his rant for hours, talking about things such as Wikipedia, Gchat, and his beloved podcasts. At the end of the day, Ron concludes that Tom is an addict.


With their ever-expanding range of functions and easy transportability, cell phones have become the staple tool for most American adults. But all jokes aside, this episode sheds light on a growing issue for both teens and adults alike: cellphone addiction. Unlike alcohol, drug, and gambling addictions, cell phone addiction can be hard to define. Experts say it is more often characterized as feelings of withdrawal if you don't have it, compulsive checking of the phone, and using it to feel good. Although cell phones can be useful and convenient devices, they are beginning to interfere in the lives of those who feel anxious about turning them off, especially those who refuse to turn them off at all. According to Lisa Merlo, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Florida College of Medicine, “It’s not so much talking on the phone that’s typically the problem, although that can have consequences too… [It’s] this need to be connected, to know what’s going on and be available to other people. That’s one of the hallmarks of cell phone addiction.”

Addictive cell phone behaviors can easily put an individual at risk to their health, job, relationships- even their life. Looking down at a phone for just 5 seconds while driving at 55 mph is the same as driving the distance of a football field without eyes on the road. In 2011, approximately 1.3 million automobile accidents involved cell phone use. In the state of Indiana, talking on a cell phone while driving is legal; however, texting and driving is not.

Although frequent cell phone use is to be expected, if you find that you (or your child) can’t sit through a dinner or movie without checking your phone, you may need to take a step back. Ask yourself how often in a day is your phone not by your side. If you think you may exhibit compulsive habits towards your cell phone, consider reducing your usage by doing one of the following:

  • Turn your phone completely off (not just silenced) while in the movie theatre, or leave your phone in your car altogether.
  • Don’t bring your phone to the dinner table. Engage in meaningful conversations face-to-face.
  • Turn your phone off while doing homework or in a meeting.
  • Resist the urge to tweet or update a Facebook status while at work.
  • Go on a walk, whether it is with a partner, child, or pet, and leave your phone at home.
  • Trade in a game on your phone for a game with others in person.
  • Look up directions before getting in the car to avoid looking at a GPS while driving.
  • Don’t text while driving.

If the thought of doing one or more of these makes you feel anxious, or if you have ever lost a job or relationship due to your cell phone use, consider talking to a counselor about cell phone addiction.

By Sarah Roberts, 1/8/2013