If you Google the subject of smartphones used in addiction treatment, you’ll find two contrasting informational threads. On the one hand, smartphones have become part and parcel of the technology available for those working on addiction treatment. Conversely, more and more stories are popping up about people seeking treatment for addiction to their smartphones.
Benefits of the Smartphone
Our initial issue stemmed from reports that smartphones are becoming integral to successful addiction treatment. In today’s frenetic business environment many business executives find themselves struggling with recovery issues, and the electronics at their fingertips can keep them on track and make their recovery even stronger.
This type of schedule works when a patient has completed a residential treatment program and moves on to an aftercare or extended care program. For most people who relapse, the cause is failure to work their aftercare. Many of them are too busy to go to the outpatient counseling sessions or attend 12-step meetings.
This is where the smartphone comes into play. The patient and counselor together devise a plan to maintain communication using the smartphone, email, a GPS location device, and other resources. Reminders can be set so that the patient checks in with his counselor or his 12-step sponsor regularly. They don’t have to talk; contact is notated electronically. Likewise, if the patient does not show up at a meeting or a counseling session, the counselor becomes aware. The patient is not left to fall in between the cracks of failed aftercare.
Smartphones or other electronics can also be used when the patient wants to document triggers and cravings. For example, suppose Joe graduates from treatment and he is now in the aftercare stage. He runs into Mike at the mall; they chat briefly and then part ways. However, Joe originally met Mike hanging out at a neighborhood bar, and as soon as Mike goes on his way, Joe starts thinking about that bar. With his smartphone schedule, he documents this trigger immediately. Later on, when he meets with his counselor, he won’t have to try to remember the things that bothered him since his last session, because there will be an electronic record.
In researching this treatment adjuvant, it also seems to be a causing a need for treatment. Psychology Today reported recently about the epidemic of people who own smartphones—56 percent of us use them—who simply cannot put them down. Such a person uses them to communicate on all levels with the people in his life, he checks his accounts at the bank, and he accesses his spreadsheets even if he’s away from the office. Look around you at any restaurant or the next time you’re in a darkened movie theater, and you will see people gazing surreptitiously into concealed lighted screens. And now the straw has broken the camel’s back: This study tells us that 20 percent of Americans use their smartphones while they’re having sex.
If you feel anxious whenever you don’t have your smartphone—or if you’re in one of the increasingly common no-phone zones—then you might be suffering from smartphone addiction. Some people check constantly for new texts whether or not they’re expecting a message. Many even report phantom vibrations—they expect their smartphone to vibrate, and they could swear that they feel it, but there is no message. If you fail to listen to the people you’re talking to because you’re checking social media, or if your job is suffering from smartphone abuse, then you need to get some help. There’s also the risk of addicts beating one addiction and then latching onto another—and for you, maybe it’s your smartphone.
The smartphone promises some interesting future conversations. Will it help us better manage our lives, including those seeking treatment from addiction? Will it present a new addiction albatross? Stay tuned for updates…but not on your smartphone.