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Scrolling is the new smoking

Mental Health

According to the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), there are 11 criteria for diagnosing addiction. If you meet two or three criteria, you have a mild disorder. If you meet four or five criteria, you have a moderate disorder and if you have six or more symptoms, you have a severe disorder.

These are the 11 criteria:

  1. Using more often and in greater amounts than planned 
  2. Unsuccessful attempts to reduce or stop
  3. Use and recovery from use takes a long time
  4. Strong desire to use 
  5. Shortcomings at work, school or at home because of use 
  6. Continuing to use despite the fact that it causes problems in the relational field
  7. Giving up hobbies, social activities or work as a result of using 
  8. Continued use even when it puts you in danger 
  9. Continued use in spite of knowing that it causes or aggravates physical or psychological problems 
  10. Needing larger quantities to still feel the effect
  11. The occurrence of withdrawal symptoms, which become less severe by using more of the substance 
  12. Now apply the above to your screen use and count the number of green ticks.

Knowing that the average screen time of the Flemish has increased to 188 (!) minutes per day, I worry how many % of the population today has a serious screen addiction.

And we get this addiction because with every new message, every push-notification, every new like, ... our brains give us a dopamine shot. So many shots, in fact, that we become less and less sensitive to it, and need ever-increasing amounts to still feel the effect. Compare it to caffeine. And it is precisely these dopamine receptors that play an important role in our feeling of happiness. In other words, we are increasingly disrupting our sense of happiness.

Screen addiction is not that far from gambling addiction. Or to put it in the words of Tristan Harris, former design ethicist at Google: "every time you scroll on your phone, you are pulling an imaginary lever of a slot machine".

We should also be much more aware that the entire business model of many (social media) apps revolves around attracting our attention. There is a huge battle for our attention. With all its consequences. 

"Is sitting the new smoking? No, scrolling seems to me to be the new smoking"Kristof De Smet, CEO of Energy Lab

So it's time that we put screen addiction much more in the spotlight, and also recognise and treat it as an addiction. So more research, more information, more awareness, more treatment, in order to protect future generations. If we don't do this, I fear a tsunami of digital junkies. With an unprecedented impact on our brain, our productivity, our relationships, and above all... our happiness!

"Is sitting the new smoking? No, scrolling seems to me to be the new smoking"

Kristof De Smet, CEO of Energy Lab

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