The Link Between Addictive Cues and Smart Phone Usage

phone addiction image

I was in a lecture recently on the subject of substance abuse and drug addiction. Specifically, on the way that dopamine is triggered by not just the use of drugs, but also cues associated with that drug. For example, returning to the same room you took the drug in, or being with the same people you took the drugs with. These cues are not exclusive to drugs but any addictive behaviour, such as gambling or on-line gaming.

Moreover, the same could be said of a particular smell transporting you back to your childhood home or music eliciting fond memories of the past.


Days later I was on the bus and I heard a familiar sound, the tune that I use as my notification or message tone behind me. I knew it wasn’t my phone and yet, I reacted by instantly getting my phone out of my pocket. As I did so I remembered the lecture, the cue associated to dopamine were being played out in front of me. Not for a drug but for the hit of dopamine I receive  for receiving a message. I look up at that moment and see others (much of the bus) around me getting their phones out of their pockets and swiping away at – I could only imagine – a number of different messages or unrelated apps.


I have written about the link between dopamine and smart phones, which you can read on my blog. Essentially the mechanisms of smartphone apps, calls and messages are similar to the mechanisms that make  fruit machines or gambling so addictive (random reward generation).


The subject of the lecture was literally being played out in front of me and gave me an insight into our addictive habits. Smart phones have become an integral part of our lives and the fact that there is a similar dynamic of interaction drugs and our smart phone use, affirms the link between their use, dopamine secretion and just how addictive smart phones can be.

If you are interested  on the effect of smart phones please take a look at my Heuristic research on my Smartphone usage.

Or to find out more about our use of me or psychotherapy general please visit Therapy in London for more information.

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