Addiction & Recovery

Digital Addiction

by:
I’m addicted to my phone. We all are.

Ironically, I’m writing this post on a digital device. We sell our lives in drips and drabs for almost nothing, while companies that hire neuroscientists to make their apps hard to put down are generating so much cash they don’t know what to do with it.

The human brain has evolved to be laser-focused on seeking out information and novel stimuli. It was important in our evolutionary past for us to notice everything.... Our lives depended on it. Now, we have a device that feeds us so much stimuli that we gorge on it despite its uselessness, to the exclusion of what is actually going on around us.

People are literally getting run over by cars because they can’t look up from their phones. They ignore their children, spouses, and each other. Toddlers are being put in front of screens instead of interacting with other humans and caretakers. Despite being more “connected,” we feel lonelier than ever. Suicide and depression are rampant, when we know that actual, real life social connectedness is one of the most effective preventatives of both. 

As a psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, and addictions specialist that sees many young people, I can tell you that we are currently raising a generation of humans who cannot tolerate a moment of boredom. Instead of learning to sit with their thoughts, they compulsively reach for their phones. Instead of interacting spontaneously and deeply with each other and their environment, many are scrolling endlessly. Instead of boredom being a signal to them that they should DO something, it’s too easy to just look down at their device. They are at an all-you-can-eat buffet of mental cotton candy that leaves them feeling depleted, uncomfortable, and unable to actually think.

What can we do about this digital addiction? 
  • Turn off all notifications on your smartphone. Look at it on YOUR schedule. 
  • Don’t give every human in your social network 24/7 access to your consciousness. 
  • Do not let young children use these devices. Proper brain development demands actual human social interaction. 
  • Remember that older children also need limits. No phones at the dinner table, none after a certain time in the evening. 
  • Try taking a day off each week entirely. “No electronics Sundays” start with complaints and ends up as the best of any day of the week. 
  • DO things WITH each other. 
  • Take a week or two away from social media and your smartphone every year. People come up with their best ideas when their minds can wander. Daydream.

And each and every day, remember to look up! That woman at the coffee shop looks just like your mother did when she was young. Look up! Your daughter just did the cutest thing and she wants, needs you to see it. Look up! That look on your spouse’s face is the one she wears when...

Look up!

I recently completed a week of digital detox; I’ll share more about that in a future blog post. Hopefully you’ll look at it on your time, if you want to at all. It’s OK if you don’t. Hopefully, you have better things to do and see – things that don’t involve a digital device. 


Dr. Thomas Franklin is the medical director of The Retreat at Sheppard Pratt. He is a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and a candidate at the Washington Center for Psychoanalysis. He is Board Certified in Addiction Medicine and Psychiatry, and has extensive experience in psychotherapy, psychopharmacology, and addictions and co-occurring disorders. Dr. Franklin previously served as medical director of Ruxton House, The Retreat’s transitional living program, before assuming the role of medical director of The Retreat in 2014.