The clinical course of problematic smartphone use (PSU) remains largely unknown due to a lack of longitudinal studies. We recruited 193 subjects with smartphone addiction problems for the present study. After providing informed consent, the subjects completed surveys and underwent comprehensive interviews regarding smartphone usage. A total of 56 subjects among the 193 initially recruited subjects were followed up for six months. We compared baseline characteristics between persistent addicted users and recovered users at the end of the 6-month follow-up. Persistent problematic smartphone users displayed higher baseline smartphone addiction severity and were more prone to develop mental health problems at the follow-up. However, baseline depressive or anxiety status did not significantly influence the course of PSU. PSU behaved more like an addictive disorder rather than a secondary psychiatric disorder. Harm avoidance, impulsivity, higher Internet use, and less conversation time with mothers were identified as poor prognostic factors in PSU. Lower quality of life, low perceived happiness, and goal instability also contributed to persistent PSU, while recovery increased these scores as well as measures of self-esteem. These findings suggest that the Matthew effect is found in the recovery of PSU with better premorbid psychosocial adjustment leading to a more successful recovery. Greater clinical resources are required for interventions in vulnerable populations to modify the course of this increasingly prevalent problematic behavior worldwide.
Keywords: anxiety; cohort; depression; dry eye; internet; pain; problematic phone use; prognosis; quality of life; recovery.