Can smartphones decrease the use of drugs?

Published: March 18, 2017
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PHOTO: AFP

PHOTO: AFP

Researchers are keen to examine if there is any link between the increasing usage of smartphones with the decreasing consumption of drugs in teenagers, the New York Times (NYT) reported.

Stressing that the correlation may not be direct, researchers said that “the possibility is worth exploring” since the “use of smartphones and tablets has exploded over the same period that drug use has declined”.

A recent US survey titled “Monitoring the Future” conducted by the University of Michigan found a major decline in use of illicit drugs [excluding marijuana] in the past year. While according to NHS statistics, smoking, drinking and drugs saw a 50 per cent decline in Britain.

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Speaking to the NYT, a director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (US), Dr Nora Volkow highlighted that the pattern was seen across groups. “Boys and girls, public and private school, not driven by one particular demographic,” she said. “Something is going on.”

Defining interactive media as an “an alternative reinforce” to drugs, Dr Volkow said that “teens can get literally high when playing these games”. She said that the researchers planned to meet next month in order to investigate the link.

Neuroscientist Arko Ghosh who is a human behaviour and smartphones expert at the University of Zurich, told the Independent that “It’s extremely interesting and useful that people would investigate this”.

“We can’t say exactly how smartphone use affects brain, but there are interesting correlations between smartphone behaviour and brain activity,” he told the newspaper. “It feels like it’s intense, and it feels different, but let’s measure it and find out how different it is.”

Dr Silvia Martins, a substance abuse expert at Columbia University, who is already studying the link between the internet and drug use in teenagers, told the NYT that the theory was “highly plausible”.

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“Playing video games, using social media, that fulfills the necessity of sensation seeking, their need to seek novel activity,” Dr Martins said. “It still needs to be proved.”

The newspaper added that Dr Sion Kim Harris – a co-director at the Centre for Adolescent Substance Abuse Research at the Boston Children’s Hospital – did not rule out the role of the internet and technology yet she hoped the decline in drugs usage was due to awareness campaigns. She also emphasised that usage of drugs had not changed in college students. Dr Joseph Lee, a psychiatrist in Minneopolis, suspects that exposure to opiod epidemic may be making teenagers stay away from drugs.

The newspaper also quoted David Greenfield – an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine and founder of The Centre of Internet and Technology Addiction, as saying: “People are carrying around a portable dopamine pump and kids have basically been carrying it around for the last 10 years.”

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