The Role of Technology in Substance Abuse & Recovery

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How Technology Has Integrated with Society

Technology is seen to have improved our education. Students now have access to more research than ever before and can complete their coursework online, easing the stress on teachers. Business transactions have become easier and more secure and now you can bank online, do your grocery shopping and even order car parts. Technology means that almost nothing is out of reach at any given time, but is this really a positive or negative?

It’s true that everything is more convenient: we can book a cab, order food and even have our laundry picked up at the touch of a button, but we’re also missing time with our loved ones in order to gaze on the lives of the rich, famous or sometimes just plain quirky.

As everyone turns their attention to developing technology in different areas—some choosing games that engage our children for hours while others find solutions for medical dilemmas—we can look at the role of technology in helping us now. With over 20 million Americans suffering from various forms of addiction, it makes sense that some people have been focusing their efforts on uncovering solutions, or at least help for addicts by using technology.

Using Technology to Promote Long-Lasting Recovery

At its most basic, access to technology has allowed those with substance disorders the opportunity to learn more and find services that will help them in recovery. This also helps those around the addict, such as friends or parents, who can find more information to help them understand addiction.

Various studies have already ascertained the benefits that technology can offer in terms of assessment, treatment, and relapse prevention. Early results from a smartphone-based recovery support system called A-CHESS showed that using the program led to 46 percent less heavy drinking days in alcohol-dependent individuals versus a control group. A 2015 study found that simply playing the game Tetris reduced cravings in a group of young college students ranging in age from 18-27, with more evidence that playing games can help manage cravings.

However, this can present its own problems: since internet games trigger the brain in the same way as drugs—dopamine is released when you progress a level or take a hit—you can become addicted to these games. Still, there’s a strong argument that being addicted to Candy Crush is probably a lot less physically damaging than heroin or alcohol.

New apps are being developed that may certainly target problems that could not be addressed without technology. An app called Sober Grid lets people access immediate support based on their location. This acts as a social network support to those who are struggling and having someone online in a time of need can really reduce the need to give in to cravings.

Those who may be more remote and are unable to visit an AA or NA group regularly can access entire digital support groups online at the touch of a button and knowing that help is out there is key. Other programs and apps use cognitive behavioral therapy, the most commonly practiced therapy for addicts, to educate users and help them change their responses and cope with real-life scenarios that may have been stressful or triggers previously. Another, CBT4CBT, uses videos and quizzes that help identify triggers and how to change your behavior around them.

Is Technology Addiction Like A Substance Abuse Addiction?

Of course, the rise and prominence of new technology and its accessibility to so many people around the world has also led to its own issues, with technology addiction becoming a relatively new problem to deal with. Although we’re not clear on the exact causes, there are a number of reasons certain people are more prone to addiction.

Studies have found that those with a technology addiction suffered cravings similar to drug addicts and experienced withdrawal when they can’t access it. Teens that struggle with a number of issues find that technology presents alternatives that give them solace. Teens that struggle with a number of issues find that the role of technology presents alternatives that give them solace in computer chat rooms, games and forums. They present an alternate reality that can be easier to live in. In a study undertaken in Iran, just under 29 percent of students were found to have moderate to severe internet dependency.

Furthermore, several studies have indicated that heavy or excessive internet use often correlates to substance abuse. Those who develop the symptoms of addiction are also likely to abuse alcohol or drugs concurrently. To that end, it’s more likely that those who already have a substance abuse problem may find it harder to define boundaries with their use of technology—what’s normal for one person may be a need for another.

It’s important to find the balance, as it can lead to ignoring other parts of your life, such as nutrition, mental health and well-being. Depression that stems from an addiction to technology can lead people to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs to quell the isolation, loneliness and low self-esteem.

Finding A Balance

In using technology to assist with addiction recovery, it’s important to establish a program of usage that doesn’t negatively impact someone’s life. This can be difficult when using apps to support the recovery process from a substance addiction, as an addict may be more prone to perpetrating some of the same behaviors they did whilst abusing a substance, such as forgoing sleep or food to meet their fix or isolating themselves from others.

It’s clear that any use of technology should be adjunct to other therapies and not serve as a standalone solution. Anything that serves the recovery—such as online support groups and digital meet-ups—are reasonably controlled spaces, whereas playing a game for 10 hours in order to avoid using drugs is problematic.

It can be more difficult to monitor since technology is so prevalent in our lives; we shop online, make spreadsheets, share documents and work, but one way to balance it is to spend time outdoors. Get out into nature and walk for a while. This doesn’t lead a person into places where they might start using but it does get them away from technology.

Wherever possible, have meetings with friends or family in person, and only use the support apps at night or for those moments alone when cravings get bad. Finding a happy medium and recovering from any addiction is a challenge, but it’s most successful when you find a path in a well-balanced, rounded-out life.

While doctors explore more innovative ways that technology can help with the recovery process, it’s clear that technological advances are helping the lives of addicts and there is much promise in discovering what lies ahead.

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