Editor's Note: For most teenagers, cell phone texting has become a lifeline, but is it an addiction? Ask many parents and they'll say yes. Today in our original series, "Texting 2 Much?" our Deb Feyerick talks to teens with excessive texting habits. Tomorrow on American Morning, we talk to teachers to find out what some schools are doing to keep kids' fingers off their phones.
By CNN Correspondent Deborah Feyerick with producer Dana Garrett
(CNN) – Get a group of teenage girls together anywhere in America and chances are they'll talk about other girls, boys and what to do for the weekend. Oh, they'll also text. A lot. Even if they're sitting right next to each other, the cell phone is out, the fingers moving quickly over the tiny keyboard.
"I don't think it's being addicted to my cell phone," says sophomore Sara Marshall. "It's the need to be talking with my friends and the cell phone is just the way I do that."
Marshall, who lives in Croton-on-Hudson, New York, says she sends a few hundred texts a day, the same amount as her friends. On average, teens send upwards of 3,200 texts a month, according to the Neilson Company.
A new study by the Pew Research Center finds, when it comes to teens, texting beats all other means of communication hands down, including face-to-face, e-mail, instant messaging and talking on the phone.
Why the constant need to stay in touch?
"You feel like you're missing something," says 15-year-old April Polubiec, one of Marshall's best friends. "Like, I feel like if someone texts me, oh, I missed out on the moment."
The need for instant communication not only has a social component, but a chemical one as well, says neuroscientist and sleep doctor Michael Seyffert. "Neuro-imaging studies have shown that those kids who are texting have that area of the brain light up the same as an addict using heroin."
Seyffert says the instant gratification of texting and getting a text back floods the brain's pleasure center with the mood enhancer dopamine. "They have to have it. And they will actually describe, when I don't have it I feel bad, I feel anxious or I feel sad."
Teens admit their moods can change based on who they're texting and how quickly they respond. "If someone responds right away, you're like 'Yay! They responded.' If someone responds two to three hours later you're like, 'What's going on,'" says sophomore Sarah Matzkin.
80 percent of all kids own a cell phone and the rate of texting has skyrocketed 600% in three years. Says Marshall, "It's right by my bed when I go to sleep. And right by my bed when I wake up. It's like the first thing I go to."
Sound addictive? Well, it could be.
Dr. Michael Rich, a pediatrician who specializes in media and calls himself a "mediatrician," dispenses advice to parents. He says, "If teens have a craving ... that can only be satisfied by doing it, then that moves into the realm of addictive behaviors – more like a gambling addiction or a sex addiction, something that is behavioral as opposed to a substance addiction in the sense of heroin or alcohol."
At the sleep clinic at JFK Medical Center at Seton Hall University, Dr. Seyffert says one in five teens are interrupting their sleep to text, some of them even texting in their sleep.
"Adolescence, in general, is a time for risky behavior, there's more experimentation, however, when you add sleep deprivation, it's like giving a kid a bottle or two of alcohol, depending on how sleep deprived they are."
Seyffert says in worst cases, kids may become irritable and fall behind in school.
Although Marshall and her friends April Polubiec and Sarah Matzkin get good grades and take part in after-school activities, in the last week, each has had her cell phone taken away for texting in class.
Tracey Bailey, of the Association of American Educators, says cell phones are, if not the single greatest problem in terms of discipline, they're at least in the top three problems.
Despite the potential downsides, parents say texting has become a necessary evil.
"I had to actually get text messaging in order to communicate with my kids," says Marshall's mom Kate, a teacher.
While the texting can be addictive, many teens feel confident they can quit cold turkey. Says Marshall, "Maybe I'd have some withdrawal symptoms, I'd get anxious and wonder what's going on. But once I realized nothing bad is happening, it's fine without my phone."