New study links problematic smartphone use to poor academic grades, alcohol misuse and mental health problems

Students who report problematic smartphone use are more likely to achieve poorer grades

New research has found that university students who describe their smartphone use as "problematic" are also more likely to experience mental health problems, have a higher number of sexual partners, and receive lower grades.

Carried out by researchers at the University of Chicago and the University of Minnesota in the USA, and the University of Cambridge, UK, the recent study looked at 3,425 US university students who were asked to complete a 156-item survey to assess their mental health and well-being.  

In addition, the researchers also measured the students' problematic smartphone usage, their current use of alcohol and drugs, psychological and physical status, and academic performance.

The findings, published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions, showed that 20 percent of the participants reported problematic smartphone use, with 64 percent of problem users found to be female.

In addition, the researchers also found that the students who reported problematic smartphone use were more likely to have lower grade point averages, and more likely to misuse alcohol. However, the researchers found no significant link between problems with smartphone use and any other form of substance abuse or addiction.

In terms of other mental health problems, the researchers found that problematic smartphone use was significantly associated with lower self-esteem, ADHD, depression, anxiety, and PTSD.

Although the researchers note that the study does not show that problematic smartphone use causes mental health problems, the findings add to previous research which has linked excessive smartphone use to mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and problems with self-esteem.

The team also found that although participants who reported problematic smartphone tended to be less sexually active than their peers, they were more likely to have a higher number of sexual partners.

In the last 12 months, 37.4 percent of sexually-active problematic smartphone users reported having two or more partners compared with 27.2 percent of sexually-active students who reported no problem use, and 6.8 percent reported having six or more sexual partners compared to just 3 percent of sexually-active non-problematic smartphone users.

Signs of problematic smartphone use include excessive use, trouble concentrating due to smartphone use, feeling anxious or impatient when without your smartphone, missing work due to smartphone use, and experiencing physical consequences of excessive use, such as light-headedness or blurred vision.