Everyday millions of Americans of practically every demographic spend an inordinate amount of time on their smartphones. Between checking for the latest news and playing games, there are countless ways to waste time on the pocket-sized devices. In recent years, many experts have raised concerns about our reliance on smartphones. It cannot be denied that they are sometimes used to distract us from the really important life issues, whether that be responsibilities or our mental state. For some people, smartphone use turns into dependence and even addiction. With that in mind, we would be seriously remiss if we failed to mention that smartphones may actually be doing some good when it comes to drug and alcohol use.
With the United States in the continued grip of an opioid addiction epidemic, it is hard to pinpoint areas of progress when it comes to substance use and abuse, until you take a look at teenagers. Research has shown that teens are trying and using drugs and alcohol less and less over the last decade. “Monitoring the Future,” is an annual survey which essentially takes a snapshot of teenage (eighth, 10th and 12th graders) drug and alcohol use. The most recent findings indicate that past-year use of illicit drugs (excluding marijuana) was the lowest in several decades.
While education and prevention can account for some of that progress, it would seem there are other factors at play that could be responsible for the decline. Researchers have theorized that smartphones could be one of the major causes for a drop in teen substance use rates, The New York Times reports. They point out that the downswing of drug and alcohol use coincides nicely with the significant increase in smartphone use.
The director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), Dr. Nora Volkow, has plans in the works to research the correlation between smartphones and substance use reductions, according to the article. Interactive media is, the director of NIDA describes, “an alternative reinforcer” to
mind-altering substances, “teens can get literally high when playing these games.” Dr. Volkow will share the findings with a group of scholars this spring.
Dr. Volkow’s theory is “highly plausible,” said Dr. Silvia Martins, an expert on substance abuse at Columbia University. “Playing video games, using social media, that fulfills the necessity of sensation seeking, their need to seek novel activity.”
We will continue to follow this interesting story in the coming months. Whatever the findings are, they will surely be of interest to those working in the field of addiction, or for those recovering from it. Parents will likely have a vested interest in Dr. Volkow’s findings, as well.