Nomophobia is the word first coined by British researchers in 2008 for the fear of being out of mobile phone contact. Symptoms according to the researchers include: "panic and anxiety when separated from the phone, compulsive checking of phone for messages and battery life, using the phone in inappropriate places, and phone activity becoming an issue in relationships, work or school."
"We're really discovering that an addiction is an attachment disorder. It's someone looking for something to fill the hole inside."
That's Steve Crowder, a licensed professional counselor here in Houston. He says many of his clients suffer some form of addiction.
"An addiction by its definition is chronic, progressive and eventually fatal. Certainly fatal to relationships, jobs and it might not kill you, but it does kill your relationships."
He says the internet's connection to social media contributes to our dependency.
"[There are] people that are addicted to porn, gaming addiction. There is a lot of internet based addictions that have just cropped up in the last few years, and they affect the brain exactly the same way that drugs such as cocaine does."
The brain's dopamine system allows humans to experience pleasure and reward, but Crowder says people who are addicted have fewer, impaired dopamine receptors, making it difficult to feel rewards without extra effort.
"It's a reward, it's a reinforcement for the behavior, and when people get hooked so to speak, then when it's time to stop, or they don't have their access, it's taken away from them, it can produce feelings of anxiety, sweats, panic even. So yeah, it is much like a substance disorder."
In a downtown tunnel during lunchtime, I found people multi-tasking — eating while on their phone, either talking or checking messages. I took a random sampling.
Male: "I like to stay connected to the world."
Hernandez: "What would you be like if you didn't have you cell phone?"
Female: "Lost! (laugh) I use it for everything — my test messaging and my maps, and getting around Houston. I'd be hard not having it."
I found one exception to the rule:
Female: "I don't even have internet at home. I also don't have cable. I'm a very basic low-tech gal, and I like it that way."
Experts say if you feel you need a break, start with baby steps, no cellphones at the dinner table. Adults should set the example by putting the phone down when talking to their kids.