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by Alan Balter

Some of my friends are recovering addicts. They are highly educated men and women, in many cases, pillars of their communities. They have careers in medicine, law, business, education, and government service. Nonetheless, their addictions had negative effects on their marriages, employment, sexuality, health, and interpersonal relationships, even with their children.

To their credit, these people were strong enough to beat their addictions, at least for now. They did this knowing full well that the withdrawal process would constitute a severe test of will and that the possibility  of relapse would be forever present. Indeed, it has been said that addicts are never cured; rather, they are always recovering.

It would be reasonable to assume that alcohol, methamphetamine, or cocaine were to blame. Or perhaps it was heroin or prescription painkillers, even food, gambling, or sex. Actually, none of these led my friends to succumb to irrepressible cravings. Instead, it was a new thing, a vile and sneaky intruder, at first innocuous, it seemed, but gradually weakening their will to resist and taking over their lives. I’m talkin’ smartphones here.

Those few folks like me who don’t own smartphones are subjected to a barrage of questions and comments. “It’s the first thing I pick up in the morning and the last thing I put down at night. How do you keep up with what’s happening in the world? I feel disconnected when I don’t have it with me; why, at times, I’ve even had panic attacks when I thought I’d lost it.”

It’s true, too, that more and more people are using smartphones. Over ninety percent of the population own cell phones, and of those devices, sixty-five percent are smartphones. Keep in mind, too, that rates of usage are increasing as we speak. Even among the elderly, those among us who use smartphones the least, the percentage of users has doubled during the last ten years.

Certainly, one doesn’t need a formal survey to realize that smart phones are ubiquitous. Just walk down the street;, frequent a restaurant, drive in traffic, go to church, or visit a restroom and you’ll see lots of folks looking downward and pecking at their keyboards or looking upward and taking pictures of themselves. Where do all the selfies go?

Given the above statistics, the odds are great that, unlike me, you’re already a user. To remain erect on the slippery slope leading toward addiction, consider the following scenarios. If two or more apply in your case, you’ re in danger of finding yourself in a situation that may have life altering consequences.

1.    A severe case of stomach flu has invaded your intestinal tract. Said condition has upset your normal regularity; indeed, stomach cramps require that you visit the bathroom every ten minutes. Notwithstanding the urgency of the situation and the growing probability of a very unpleasant outcome, you stop on the way to the toilet to conduct a thorough search for your smartphone to assure that you’re continuously connected whilst doing your stuff.

2. You're driving home after a difficult day at the office. You're tired because you've put in about ten hours, and much of your time involved conflict resolution between employees and meetings with arrogant superiors. Your beautiful wife, a martini, and a home-cooked dinner await you. but you are actually hoping for red lights so that you will be able to check your smartphone for text messages and emails.

3.  You agree to participate in a survey regarding smartphone usage. One of the questions, a tad too personal for your taste is: "Would you rather give up sex for a weekend or go without your smartphone for the same length of time?" Your response is "it's not an issue at my house, because my wife and I have wonderful sexual relations at the same time that I'm on my smartphone

4.  You're sitting in a restaurant across the table from a nubile blind date who has knocked your eyes out. Things are going swimmingly. You are flirting and wondering if she will be inviting you up to her apartment for a nightcap after dinner. Both of you are into each other as she speaks to you on her Samsung and you reply on your Apple.

5.  You're walking home alone after a late evening card game with your cronies. You start to feel edgy, because you hear footsteps behind you. Your worst fears are realized when a burly-looking guy catches up to you and sticks a fun into the small of your back. "Give me your smartphone, or I'll blow your head off," he says. Seemingly paralyzed with fear, you do nothing. I said "Give me your smartphone, or I'll blow your head off," he repeats with increasing menace.

     Can you give me a minute to think it over," you say. * 

Of course, diagnosing the problem is only one part of any treatment program. Even more important is the question of therapy. What are you to do if, in fact, two or more of the above scenarios apply in your case?

Being that smartphone addiction is a relatively recent phenomenon, clinics sponsored by Betty White or anyone else have not yet been established. Neither are 12 step programs available at the present time. And, most psychologists, for the most part out of control users themselves, are not in a position to help. So, cruel as it seems, you’re on your own.

My friends who have survived withdrawal have gone cold turkey. Sure, it was difficult, and there were times when they felt tempted and discouraged. They hung tough, though, and with each passing day, their withdrawal symptoms diminished. In a couple of weeks, they began to feel they had their lives back.

They are courageous and beautiful human beings, ready to use their smartphones once again, in moderation, of course. but never during sex or bowel movements.

*Thanks to Jack Benny, circa 1960 

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