Academic journal article Indian Journal of Psychiatry

Use of Digital Technology in Addiction Disorders

Academic journal article Indian Journal of Psychiatry

Use of Digital Technology in Addiction Disorders

Article excerpt

Byline: Mrunal. Bandawar, Venkata. Narasimha, Prabhat. Chand

The expanding use of digital technology in mental health has widened the scope of emerging addiction interventions. This review focus on the use of technological advances in the field of addiction and mental health. We discuss about how these advances has been implemented in addiction treatment and research. Further, we also mention about the utilisation of these services in India.


Internet based technologies now provide the capacity to merge the efficacy of evidence based treatments with the advantages of wide reaching interventions[1]. It allows interactive responses and also face-to-face interactions. In substance use disorders (SUD) management, providing tailored support is often said to play a crucial role[2] and technological innovations appear to have an ability to provide such type of interventions[3]. Also, the motivation of SUD patients fluctuates, which results in difficulty in the initiation of treatment and associated high level of drop out if these patients are not provided timely interventions[3],[4],[5],[6].

Around 28% of population in India is actively using the internet with per annum growth of 9% of urban users and 26% of rural India[7]. The rural growth is estimated to grow 3 times every year. With this drastic growth in the number of internet users, it is the right time to start making use of technology and internet in substance use management services. The use of technology may help us reaching these services to remote rural populations, who might have been deprived of these services, in the absence of technological ventures.

In this article, we aim to summarize the evidence on the use of digital technology, including mobile applications in the treatment and prevention of substance use disorders. We also discuss the Indian perspectives regarding use of digital technology. Further, we discuss how such technological advances could help in overcoming the barriers to improve access to substance use care [Figure 1].{Figure 1}

This figure illustrates the multiple domains across which digital technology in mental health can be used.

Patient facing technology

In the present era, digital technology use involves the use of smartphone applications and emails[9],[10]. Earlier, the use of technology in mental health research involved devices such as alarm watches and beepers to remind about any paper based assessments. This approach was called as the Experience sampling method (ESM) or ecological momentary assessment (EMA)[11],[12]. This type of data collection helped in generating insight about changes in the outcome measures with the daily life activities, parameters which were inaccessible with other research methodologies. Initially, descriptive studies comparing different psychiatric disorders were reported. Later, the focus shifted towards more hypothesis driven studies exploring the nature of specific disorders. Although the initial studies varied in the intensity and duration of these mobile devices used, they demonstrated the uniqueness and utility of this research methodology in mental health research. However, the use of labour intensive paper based methods for collecting outcome related data, limited the utility of EMA. For example, the participants were many a time facing the difficulty in mentioning the accurate timings when the daily reports were completed[13]. Later, technological advances increased the availability of programmable electronic devices such as smartphones and palmtop computers. These devices made the data collection more feasible and decreased the bias associated with paper based research. For example, the data entry time points were having date and time stamps, which increased the reliability of the EMA.

The research concentrating on the use of technology in addiction research has focused on the relationship between cue exposure and craving for the actual substance use. …

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