QUESTION: ‘I constantly check for messages and am disappointed when there aren’t any. I can’t stop using it – even when I drive! I’ve told myself over and over to leave my cell alone, but just can’t do it. Is this an addiction?’
ANSWER: Yes, but there’s hope for you yet!
‘You can beat addiction!’ says Rev Dr Lesly Uys (therapeutic and pastoral counsellor, Cape Town)

‘In our busy and tiring world, an SMS or WhatsApp may be all we can manage and it is a useful way of engaging – so when is it a problem? It becomes a problem when our emotions and behaviours are affected by something/someone, and we’ve effectively made an idol of it/them. Dependencies include both substance and processes (overspending, nail biting, fantasy). Research shows that a behavioural dependency has exactly the same effect on the brain chemistry as a drug! Addiction is progressive and if left unchecked, ALWAYS GETS WORSE.

For generations, psychologists thought that virtually all self-defeating behaviour was caused by people repressing their feelings for a number of reasons (war/family situations/poverty, etc). However, we now know this isn’t the case with addiction. Addiction attaches desire to certain behaviours, people or substances until they come to rule the person’s life. That’s why traditional psychotherapy, which releases repressed emotions, is ineffective in treating it, and why Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is so powerful.

CBT is based on the principle that a cognition (thought) actually creates your emotion, and it is this emotion which determines your behaviour. If you can challenge your thoughts, you can challenge the self-defeating emotions and behaviours they produce. Recent studies indicate that CBT actually changes brain chemistry and is more effective than medication or other psychotherapies.

snap an elastic band to stop yourself obsessing

If you’re struggling with cell phone addiction, why not try some of these techniques:

  • Set yourself a limit to using your phone. This may include only checking for messages three times a day
  • Switch your phone off when you’re driving so you’re not tempted to respond to an SMS or call
  • Wear an elastic band around your wrist and every time you find yourself obsessing, snap the band against your wrist
  • Speak out loud! When you’re obsessing about possible messages on your phone, speak to a colleague instead or start speaking out loud the tasks you need to do for the day

warning signs

Warning signs that a habit is taking over your life include withdrawing from people or responsibilities; deterioration in school or work performance; endangering your own health and safety or that of others; listlessness, depression, nervousness, lying; insomnia or sleeping in late; shoplifting or vandalism. If you have any of these symptoms, please do something positive to break the cyclic nature of dependency! If you understand why you behave in a certain way, the battle is already half won. To do this, it might help to try the following CBT techniques:

  • Repair present relationships (Mark 11:25: ‘And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses’)
  • Work through painful memories of a dysfunctional family with a counsellor (Proverbs 11:14: ‘Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety’)
  • Choose affirming, supportive people who will encourage and hold you accountable (Hebrews 3:13: ‘But exhort one another daily, while it is called today, lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin’)
  • Rebuild your relationship with God, who has promised never to leave or forsake you (Hebrews 13:5)’

How do I know if I’m dependent?

Dependency on a behaviour or substance occurs in stages:

  1. INTOXICATION: When a substance or compulsion causes mood changes, faulty judgment, aggressive behaviour, impaired social functioning
  1. ABUSE: Use of the substance/behaviour results in your failure to fulfil responsibilities or to maintain healthy relationships, or you might put yourself/others at risk of potential harm (like driving while reading/writing an SMS)
  1. ADDICTION: You experience these indicators:
  • Drug/behavioural tolerance: you need more of the drug/behaviour to obtain the same effect
  • Physical dependence: you suffer from withdrawal symptoms (anxiety)
  • Craving: you develop a pattern of compulsive behaviour
  • Withdrawal: the distress caused by lack of the drug/behaviour severely disrupts your daily life
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