By Dr. Evian Gordon, MD, PhD on Thu, Jun 28, 2018
Drugs of abuse alter neurobiological systems, including those involved in motivation, reward, decision making, and memory. In turn, these restricting cognitive changes can deepen addiction because they stop the overcoming of cravings.
The process of addiction unfolds similarly to sinking into quicksand; you went out for a fun adventure, only to become ensconced in the mire, brain hijacked by cravings and unable to resurface on your own.
Addictions develop and evolve for a variety of reasons, ranging from the historical, to recovering from work injuries (people may develop chronic pain due to poor working conditions, then turning to prescription pain killers), to seeking extreme rewards or soothing, that can be fueled by seductive pharmaceutical drugs (such as for anxiety, sleep, pain), food, alcohol, smoking and sex marketing.
The surge in substance abuse has increased the spread of HIV, Hepatitis C, and neonatal abstinence syndrome. It’s a vicious initial euphoria followed by intense cravings and a cycle of decline. Addictions have become a public health crisis.
In the United States, resolving this crisis requires a comprehensive, yet intricate approach that connects politicians, scientists, social workers, healthcare workers, data analysts, families and a spectrum of other interventions.
Americans are demanding more publicly funded recovery initiatives, a mandate that EMTS carry naloxone with them at all times (which can save a life in the event of an opioid overdose), mobile methadone programs (like Portugal’s), decriminalization of individual drug users, and the recognition that addiction is a brain disease and not simply a human frailty.
In the interim, as policies are slowly cranking through bureaucratic channels, many individuals are stuck waiting for help. Presently, only one in 10 Americans addiction sufferers can access the services necessary to support recovery.
REWIRING THE BRAIN
A step in the right direction can begin with low-cost, easily accessible online tools, such as those available via mobile phone apps. Non-prescription apps show immense promise as well. A 2014 study suggests that game-based apps represent useful neuropsychological interventions in alcoholics, with one app reaching 2.7 million people. Well designed evidence based apps are a powerful adjunct key to helping addicted individuals overcome cravings and rewire their brain.
What kinds of apps are best?
Positivity and Stress Reduction apps: People with addiction experience intense stress, which is known to kick the ‘craving’ sensation into gear. Apps designed by doctors and psychologists offer people invaluable insights into how to manage stress and boost positivity inducing situations and how to reduce craving. The power of positivity is far reaching. Positivity can enhance the immune system, reduce levels of stress and inflammation, and enable people to find self –belief and contentment without the use of substances. MyBrainSolutions has been used by over 10,000 people to recover and it was evident that “Positive Affirmations” and Stress Reduction apps were used for training far more than over 20 other apps on this platform.
Mindfulness Meditation apps: Addicted individuals spend most of the day thinking about the future (where to find the next fix), and may use a substance to escape the pain of the past. Rarely do addicts live in the present moment. Bringing the self back to the present offers the opportunity to refocus attention, rebalance priorities, and gradually regain self-control. Mindfulness meditation training, available through apps like this one, retains a golden track record in helping people achieve favorable outcomes.
Accountability apps: Some apps offer ‘sobriety clocks’, helping people track their number of days sober. Other apps use algorithms to pinpoint times of day when individuals are particularly likely to use substances, and to then guide people in planning around triggers. Sharing messages with friends and family members also solidifies commitments. Sharing anguish and solutions enhances self regulation and control of cravings.
Evidence-based apps can help individuals reset, beat cravings and self optimize.