A driver looks down at a cellphone, quickly checking a text message, and blows through a stop sign. The car broadsides a minivan with a family inside, putting two children and their parents in the hospital.

In the wake of the crash, it’s easy to ask a lot of questions about just how important that text could have been. Was it worth someone’s life? No one would say it was, and the distracted driver may even seem perplexed as to why they made that decision.

One doctor thinks that she may have the answer, and it’s a brain chemical called dopamine. It is strongly linked to desire or “seeking” behavior. We can then get chemical rewards for carrying out this type of seeking, creating the loop and just making us want to seek more.

What she believes is that text messages and emails can kick off this dopamine loop. When we hear that we got a text, it starts the seeking behavior, and the reward is reading and responding to this message. Doing it over and over again builds up this link and can make people feel addicted to their phones.

That, she says, is why people will even check their phones to see if any messages have come in when they didn’t hear the ring or the buzz. They still want to seek that reward that their brain is so dependent on.

This is absolutely a form of addiction, according to her research, and it can help to explain why driving distractions are so common. Those who get injured in accidents caused by distracted drivers need to know what options they have to seek financial compensation for their medical bills.