The Cell Phone Analogy

The Cell Phone Analogy

I use The Cell Phone analogy as an exercise with families to build their compassion and understanding for how an addicted person feels during an intervention. Think for a minute about me taking away your cell phone. Our behaviors and habits create anxiety similar to addiction. 

  • We often don’t realize how strong an addiction is until we face the world “sober.” These instances cause instant panic. 
  • Although it’s possible, it’s hard to imagine life without the addiction. 
  • After treatment it takes work to learn how to navigate life and social experiences without a crutch. 
  • Triggers and other circumstances elevate the risk of relapse at any time. It’s critical that those in long term recovery anticipate these challenges. 

Taking Away the Cell Phone

Most people have a minor (or maybe full-blown) addiction to their phone. The second I realize my phone is missing, I turn into a rabid addict, digging through couch cushions and looking underneath the seats of my car, probably several times. Without my phone in my hand, it is nearly impossible for me to maintain my peace of mind.

I try to look calm and collected when it’s missing, unbothered, but it’s only a matter of a few minutes before I have a total meltdown where I’m frantically pacing around my house and blaming others for my issue. It’s all I can think about when it’s missing, and the second I find it, I feel momentary relief. I need this phone.

Imagine if I pulled you into a room where all of your loved ones were sitting down, and I asked (or demanded) that you give up your cell phone. In a dramatic fashion, we tell you how your cell phone use hurts us, how each minute you’re on your phone is robbing us of time we want to spend with you. 


We approach you with compassion because we know yelling at you will only incite an argument. We take our time showing you the negative impact of your phone. You reluctantly agree, the phone has taken over your life. 

Imagine your phone was confiscated today with no promise of it being returned. Would your feelings match any of the ones listed below?

  • Anxiety that something important was gone from your life.
  • A physical sense that something was missing from your hand.
  • Fear of missing out on an important text or email.
  • Concerned that the dreadful feelings will never go away.
  • An inability to function in the world without a phone.
  • Anger at the person who took your phone away.

For most people in society, life without a cell phone feels unimaginable. Think of the anxiety you would have going phone-sober. Some of us have lived without a cell phone before, we would have to dust off our cell-phone less life skills, others have never lived without a mobile phone, they can’t even comprehend this new life.

Life without a Mobile Phone

Take your phone sobriety a step further, now imagine “going sober” from your phone, and you set out to be cell phone abstinent for a year. You have a lot of work to do in the first month, you need to call the phone company and get a landline installed, you need to find a phone book, you need to get a handwritten address book, and ask people what their number is, so you can write it down. Oh, and you will need to figure out how to work a fax machine. 

You will have to constantly explain to friends that you no longer text. You feel you will be letting them down, as they enjoyed texting with you over the years and now have trouble communicating with you. Your best friends might even pressure you to use your phone again. But you’re committed, you’re going to stay phone-sober. 

Adapting to a new Lifestyle

The first month will be hard and filled with anxiety. In your second and third months of being phone-sober, you might calm down a bit, you’re over the anger, and you’re mostly committed to being phone sober, but many days, it feels like it would just be easier to go back to using a cell phone. “Everyone else is doing it” you explain.

This phone analogy is relatable and gives people a better understanding of addiction. The situation is far-fetched, yet it is a direct reflection of the experience and emotions our loved one feels on their journey to recovery. Use this analogy to put yourself in the place of the AP so that you can enter the intervention process with understating and compassion.

My Real Experience with the Mobile Phone Analogy

I went to a 5-day retreat a few years back, and I had to give up my phone. After the retreat I didn’t use my phone as much, I remember thinking how much extra time I had. For a few weeks after that phone detox, I was able to devote my attention to people and things without looking down at the phone. I enjoyed removing my reliance on a phone to feel okay. I am sure that if I committed to going phone-sober, after a few months, I would likely be totally happy in my new way of life. You know how my story ends, after a few weeks, I fully relapsed and have been using my phone the same as I always have. The experience really makes the cell phone analogy hit home. 


About Adam Banks

Adam Banks is a certified interventionist and the owner of Adam Banks Recovery. After receiving an MBA from the University of Chicago, Adam built a company acquired by United Health Care. His discipline and attention to detail comes from his former career as an airline pilot, holding an ATP, the FAA’s highest license.

Today, Adam is dedicated to helping others achieve long-term sobriety. His work has guided executives, pilots, and physicians on paths to recovery. Adam brings families together through a loving and inclusive approach. Adam has authored four books on addiction. His recent work, Navigating Recovery Ground School: 12 Lessons to Help Families Navigate Recovery, educates families on the entire intervention process. He also offers a free video course for families considering an intervention for a loved one.

Adam is available for alcohol and drug intervention services in New York, Long Island, the Hamptons as well as nationally and internationally.

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