Great Escape

The Real Cost of Phone Addiction

You use your phone too much. Here’s how to stop the cycle.

Catherine Price
Published in
6 min readAug 8, 2018


Art: Ryan Hubbard

YYou, like most people, probably use your phone too much. People spend an average of four hours a day staring at their handheld screen, according to the time-tracking app Moment, and that doesn’t include time spent using their phones to do other things, like listen to podcasts or take calls. Engage in any activity for that long and it changes your brain. Those changes may be positive if we are talking about, say, meditation. Less so if it’s time spent staring at your phone.

For the past three years, I have been conducting research and writing a book about our relationships with our phones. I’ve since concluded that phone time is affecting everything from our memories and attention spans to our creativity, productivity, relationships, stress levels, physical health, and sleep. In short, if you feel like your phone is changing you — and not always for the better — you’re not crazy. You’re right.

When we can’t check our phones, our bodies release stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol.

Phones, advertising-based apps, and social media are designed to be hard to stop using. It’s their business model: The more time and attention we spend on them, the more data they can collect and the more targeted ads they can show us. These companies are so good at manipulating our brain chemistry that we often don’t even realize that we’re being manipulated. By always making sure there’s a new post or a potential “like” waiting for us, they have conditioned us to associate checking our phones with getting a reward— which makes us want to check even more.

We have become like Pavlov’s famous dogs, trained to salivate when they heard the sound of a bell. And when we can’t check our phones, our bodies release stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. We become twitchy and irritable. We reach for our phones in our pockets, even if we know they’re not there. We exhibit what addiction specialists would immediately recognize as symptoms of withdrawal.

All of which is to say: Don’t beat yourself up if you’ve tried and failed to change your phone…



Catherine Price
Writer for

is a science writer, founder of Screen/Life Balance, author of How to Break Up With Your Phone & The Power of Fun. Learn more at