Although opioids remain a top concern of citizens, law enforcement, and public officials alike, there’s another form of addiction that’s gaining traction in the mainstream media as well as among industry professionals: smartphones.
Of course, when you compare a smartphone to heroin, it’s no contest as to which poses the most threat. After all, even someone who uses a smartphone so excessively as to be considered a ‘smartphone addict’ can’t overdose like a heroin user can. In fact, the rising rate of heroin overdose deaths has been a guiding factor in legislation and recent policy, so what is it, exactly, that’s causing concern about the overuse of smartphones to gain so much steam?
Here’s an image that we’ve all seen: The driver of the car in the neighboring lane on a busy highway is looking down at the phone on which he or she is texting instead of ahead at the road on which he or she is driving. Another common scenario we see is a family having dinner at a restaurant with each member of the family using one hand to usher their forks from plate to mouth while the other is intently swiping and tapping on the smartphone that holds their attention. There’s also the tendency for children — even toddlers and preschool-aged children — to prefer iPads and laptops to playing with toys or outside with friends. At any given time, we need only to survey our immediate surroundings to witness the level to which humanity has become obsessed with connected tech and mobile gadgetry.
There are a number of characteristics of our technology use that are quite similar to alcohol and drug use among individuals suffering from addiction. For instance, gaining likes and comments on social media triggers a burst of dopamine and other feel-good neurochemicals that, when viewed on a cranial scan, is virtually indistinguishable from alcohol or drug use. Moreover, the experience of pleasure that users experience from using technology prompts them to repeat these behaviors over and over and over again, which is the definition of an addiction.
However, in spite of the momentum that’s growing behind the view of smartphones being addictive, there’s an emerging theory that’s actually quite interesting and which is in complete opposition with the concept of smartphone addiction. In fact, this new theory posits that smartphones can actually be a solution to addiction. So how, exactly, can a smartphone be both addictive as well as able to prevent addiction?
The idea is that the use of smartphones or other mobile devices could make it easier for individuals to resist alcohol or drug use in certain contexts. An example that’s been given is youths at a social gathering; if the adolescents are sharing a joint, an individual who doesn’t want to partake in marijuana use his or her smartphone as a way of discouraging the others from passing the joint to him or her. Since it would appear that the individual was simply preoccupied with something on the smartphone, the other adolescents would be less likely to pressure him or her into using the marijuana. Or that’s the theory, anyway.
If that scenario sounds a little farfetched, there’s another argument for smartphones actually being a solution to addiction rather than risks for addictive, and that’s the use of smartphones as a recovery resource. In the Digital Age in which we find ourselves, it’s exceptionally easy to make connections with people we never would have been able to otherwise via the internet; therefore, smartphones — as well as other connected devices — exponentially broaden our social reach. It’s often said that establishing a strong support network is an important part of one’s success in recovery, so the fact that smartphones provide on-demand access to a potentially global support system could be said to make them a more effective recovery tool than twelve-step groups could ever be.
With the development of recovery-oriented mobile apps and online recovery communities, it’s not surprising that smartphones would become a more vital resource for individuals who are trying to get or stay sober. It will be interesting to see how perspective regarding smartphones and other connected devices change as we move forward.