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Nerd, interrupted: Inside a smartphone addiction treatment center

Leah Yamshon | Aug. 28, 2013
Those who suffer from nomophobia—the fear of being without a mobile phone—need a special type of rehab therapy and wellness programs to bring them back to reality.

Depression, however, is the most commonly shared result of nomophobia. When we have face-to-face interaction with other humans, we experience something called limbic resonance. According to Cash, human interactions stimulate the release of specific neurochemicals in our brains, which are necessary for full emotional and physical well-being. "Without enough limbic resonance in our lives, over time, we function and feel less and less well. This is why isolation is bad for us. We are social animals; we need one another."

Although we think we're socializing when we're voraciously texting and sharing info with friends on our phones, we're actually denying a crucial piece of our genetic wiring. People deep in their dependent relationship with their phones need a serious shift to interrupt the artificial stimulus the device affords, and must relearn how to get their interpersonal stimulus from other human beings.

"Recovering addicts are like newborns," says Cash. "They must grow, adjust, reset, and redevelop basic functioning skills."

Digital rehab
If someone truly has a debilitating phone dependency, they won't be able to kick the habit alone. They need straight-up rehab in a monitored clinic.

Some rehab and recovery clinics offer specialized programs for combating mobile addictions. Restart and Morningside are two of them, with Restart's patients usually being men between the ages of 18 and 28, whereas Morningside treats mostly females aged 35 and younger.

Restart's entire facility is designed for treating tech addictions. Patients check in for 45 to 90 days, and then spend the first three weeks detoxing with no access to their phones or personal technology of any kind. It's quitting, cold turkey. They work on fixing their basic life skills—they eat healthy meals, get lots of sleep and exercise, and do chores around the facility. But most important, they undergo lots of psychotherapy and group sessions to get to the core of their dependence.

Morningside has a similar procedure, but before clients check in for their extended in-patient stay, Waterman monitors their typical phone usage to determine just how attached they are. She does so by asking her patients to write a tally mark on a piece of paper every time they look at their phones.

The in-patient program involves a 30- to 90-day stay, and clients work with therapists to identify why their phones interfere with their everyday lives. "We treat it partially as an addiction, and partially as an impulse-control issue," says Waterman. "They have the inability to inhibit the impulse." Once the root of the issue has been found, she works with patients on effective coping skills, such as deep breathing, distraction techniques, and getting comfortable with face-to-face interactions with other people.


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