If you are like the average American you most likely spend 2 to 3 hours on social media per day. You may find it difficult to remember what life was like before news feeds, tweets and hashtags. The internet serves as an information highway, giving you the ability to instantly access thousands of ideas, solutions, products and answers for your every need and desire. When we talk about modern media technologies and substance use though, that instant access to information can be a double-edged sword, brining unpredictable results either way.
With the increasing cost of healthcare, especially in the United States, Americans are looking for cost saving or free alternatives to help them overcome substance use problems. Although often times unreliable, there are hundreds of modern technologies to help someone with an addiction. These can range from self-help articles, discussion boards, and blogs, to apps. Talking about apps, there are so many available, that I am starting to believe the slogan, “There’s an app for that!” One simple search through my own cell phone and I have stumbled upon close to 2,000 apps covering the topics of alcohol use, drug or sex addiction. Many of these apps are entirely free, but what is their purpose and do they work?
In general, it’s probably not the best idea to rely only on a phone app to resolve any kind of problem, let alone something as serious as substance use related issues. While these apps can be interesting, "fun" and a curious thing to try, they might also create false expectations or false sense of security that might be used as an excuse for people to drink more and/or consider they are still in a condition to safely operate a vehicle after drinking in excess. In other words, relying on your phone to determine blood alcohol content level (BAC) or to discover how many beverages it will take to become extremely intoxicated, or participating in online drinking tag games should probably be at the bottom of the list for usefulness. However, there are apps out there that can help with moderation, creating better habits and sticking to healthier choices when it comes to substance use.
Of course, apps do not provide a human interaction and that is why, probably one of the top places people seek advice for substance use online, are the discussion boards. Yahoo Answers, Quora, specialized addiction boards, you name it. I admit, I have used (and I am still using) some of these too. While I was pregnant and now that I had a new baby, I am constantly finding myself turning to Google and Yahoo answers for every noise or sneeze my newborn makes. Why I do it? For the same reason people with substance use problems do the same thing- people like to belong. I have found a ton of online communities filled with moms just like me, dealing with the same questions, battling the same everyday problems. While it is useful to hear from others who "have been there and done that". a word of caution- expert advice cannot be substituted with experience, especially when it comes to addiction.
Every situation is different, every person is different, so what worked for Jane might not work for John. Just because someone else has the same problems or experience the same symptoms does not make them an expert on the topic. Everyone’s body reacts differently to drugs and alcohol, and everyone’s experiences with addiction are different. Working for a substance use program, I know that people are often embarrassed to discuss substance related questions and the anonymity of the discussion boards alleviates that stress. However, what is often convenient, is even more often unreliable.
The internet has become the main communication channel for many. Sometimes, we trust the suggestions and opinions of complete strangers in regards to our lives, relationships, and finances, but when it comes to health, things get complicated very quick. Inexpert advise, even if it is well intentioned, can jeopardize the health of the person on the other end and potentially have harmful, even deadly consequences if the advice seeker is undergoing side effects from using substances or if they are trying to detox at home.
Of course, that does not mean that people should not take advantage of the vast amount of information available at their fingertips. As with everything, balance is the key. Using information from trusted or professional resources is a great way to go about it. With substance use problems, it is a very disconcerting trend that people tend to self-diagnose and sometimes self-medicate as a result. The thousands substance use online screening surveys ( often referred to as "screeners") that determine if a person is or is not an addict are a great example.
While these tests may create awareness, they can also promote false diagnoses, provoke depression symptoms and increase stress. They are general questions such as “Do you drink alone?” but just because someone drinks alone does not mean they necessarily have a serious drinking problem. However, this "correlation" indicated by the screeners might make a person believe they have a more serious problem than they really do-which can actually cause a person to drink or use drugs more.
While modern technology in regards to addiction isn’t always the answer, there are certainly numerous positives that can be achieved through social media sites and that is the factor of awareness. While there is nothing positive to say in regards to the recent passing of yet another extremely talented actor, Philip Seymour Hoffman, there is a silver lining in the tragedy. Through social media, news related to these kinds of events spread like wildfire , through memorial pages, tweets and photos. The death of Hoffman and other well known actors, such as Cory Monteith and Brittany Murphy, raise awareness specially across alternative to drug rehab centers and open the door for drug or alcohol users to get the other means of help. The death of a celebrity often touches a large number of people at the same time and could become a reason for the average person to realize that if it can happen to a celebrity, it can happen to them as well.
Overcoming a substance use problem takes much more than filling out a survey or reading a few articles on the internet. It takes hard work, determination and the willingness to dig deep into issues that many have been avoided for years. There’s no quick fix or instant answer that will change the substance use reality that a person has created with their own choices and behavior. The key is to want the change, make the right choices, ask the right questions and look for that answer that will unlock the courage to stop drinking or using drugs and change your life for the better-just keep in mind, that change is possible.