The word “addiction” is commonly associated with alcohol and drugs. But a new study by researchers from Baylor University in Waco, TX, suggests a new form of dependence is becoming an increasing concern – cell phone addiction. The study of high school students found that 60% say they may be addicted to their cell phones, and some say they become agitated if it is not nearby.

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Researchers found college students spend an average of 9 hours a day using their cell phone.

Furthermore, the research team – led by James Roberts, PhD, of the Hankamer School of Business at Baylor University – found that college students spend an average of 9 hours a day using their cell phone. Female college students spend 10 hours a day using the device, while male college students use their cell phone for almost 8 hours a day.

“That’s astounding,” says Roberts. “As cell phone functions increase, addictions to this seemingly indispensable piece of technology become an increasingly realistic possibility.”

The findings were recently published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions.

Among college students in particular, there is some concern that such excessive and obsessive use of cell phones may interfere with academic performance.

“Cell phones may wind up being an escape mechanism from their classrooms. For some, cell phones in class may provide a way to cheat,” says Roberts, adding that excessive use of cell phones in the classroom may also lead to conflict with professors, while outside the classroom it may cause conflict with employers and even family members.

The purpose of this particular study was to pinpoint the cell phone activities that are most closely linked to cell phone dependence.

“Given the ever-increasing array of activities that can be performed via a cell phone, it is critical that we understand which such activities are more likely to be associated with cell phone addiction,” say the researchers.

The team conducted an online survey involving 164 college students aged 19-22. Participants were asked to state – out of 24 cell phone activities – which ones they engaged in the most.

In addition, they were asked to agree or disagree with a series of statements, such as “I get agitated when my cell phone is not in sight” and “I find that I am spending more and more time on my cell phone,” in order to gauge what cell phone activities are linked to the addiction.

Overall, top activities in cell phone use included texting (94.6 minutes a day), sending emails (48.5 minutes a day), checking Facebook (38.6 minutes a day), surfing the Internet (34.4 minutes a day) and listening to iPods (26.9 minutes a day).

However, Roberts and his team found that the following six cell phone activities were positively associated with cell phone addiction over all participants: use of Pinterest, Instagram, iPod, number of calls made and number of texts sent.

But addiction-associated cell phone activities were found to differ between men and women. For example, reading books and the Bible and use of Twitter was linked to cell phone addiction in men, while use of Amazon and Spotify was associated with cell phone addiction among women.

However, the team also found that time spent engaging in certain cell phone activities – such as Internet use and gaming – was not linked to cell phone addiction.

Commenting on the findings, the researchers say:

Study results suggest that certain activities performed on one’s cell phone are more likely to lead to dependence than others and that these addictive activities vary across gender. Additionally, time spent on a particular activity does not necessarily signal the activity’s addictive potential.

The cell phone allows us the freedom to gather information, communicate, and socialize in ways only dreamed of before the discovery of cellular technology. At the same time, however, cell phones can lead to dependence, as shown in this study, and restrictions.”

The team concludes that as cell phones have become “inextricably woven” into our daily lives, it is important that future research identifies the “tipping point” at which cell phone use crosses the line from being a useful tool to one that “enslaves both users and society alike.”

Last year, Medical News Today reported on a study claiming cell phone use among college students is linked to anxiety and poorer academic performance.

We also discussed technology addiction in a spotlight feature earlier this year, in which we asked how it should be treated.