Brain Hacking In Addiction Recovery

Smartphones are ubiquitous. We cannot go anywhere without them, seemingly. Everyone from teenagers to seniors relies on their smartphones to get from point A to point B. Checking email, social media and playing games. Sometimes you may find yourself pining for a time before everyone was constantly staring at their black mirror. A name given because when the screen is not lit up it reflects your face back at you. And it is fair to say, that for some people that is reason enough to continue scrolling down their Facebook timeline or playing another round of Candy Crush.

Given that smartphones are still a relatively new invention, there is little way to know the exact costs of constant cellular interaction. Certainly, there are some whose smartphone use has negatively impacted their lives, requiring some form of intervention. But nevertheless, the clear majority of people continue to use their phones, in some cases for hours each day. All these observations beg the question, why do people use their smartphones to the point of what could be classified as an addiction?

Naturally, there is going to be a number of people, who are familiar with substances and/or behaviors to which people typically become addicted, that may argue that if all one is hooked on is apps—things could be a lot worse. However, it is important to remember that addiction is addiction is addiction. Just because an activity appears to be benign on the surface, does not mean that there isn’t something more sinister operating just below the surface. And if one has the propensity to use one item in an unhealthy way, they are at a much greater risk of forming negative attachments to other activities typified by instant gratification and neurochemical release. Such as sex, drugs and alcohol.

Brain Hacking Via Smartphone

To be sure, smartphone apps can be at times a healthy distraction even. However, there is evidence to suggest that the companies making the apps used by millions every day are actually designing them to get users hooked. In a CBS: 60 Minutes interview, Anderson Cooper talked about “brain hacking” with Silicon Valley tech insider Tristan Harris. We won’t include the whole interview but just a view lines to give you an idea of what is going on.

Anderson Cooper: Is Silicon Valley programming apps or are they programming people?

Tristan Harris: Inadvertently, whether they want to or not, they are shaping the thoughts and feelings and actions of people. They are programming people. There’s always this narrative that technology’s neutral. And it’s up to us to choose how we use it. This is just not true.

Anderson Cooper: Technology’s not neutral?

Tristan Harris: It’s not neutral. They want you to use it in particular ways and for long periods of time. Because that’s how they make their money.

Tristan Harris: And I was asking, “When is all of this adding up to, like, an actual benefit to my life?” And I ended up making this presentation. It was kind of a manifesto. And it basically said, you know, “Look, never before in history have a handful of people at a handful of technology companies shaped how a billion people think and feel every day with the choices they make about these screens.”

The presentation that Tristen Harris is talking about is 144-pages long and it circulated around the industry, including Google where he worked at the time. But it led to zero changes in how things were being done. Now he is going around the country talking about the dangers associated with pervasive smartphone use. He says that the constant distractions of apps and emails are “weakening our relationships to each other,” and “destroying our kids’ ability to focus.”

Here you can view just a few minutes of Anderson Cooper’s 60 Minute presentation on Brain Hacking.

Brain Hacking 3 – 60 Minutes from Proven Men TM on Vimeo.

If you are having trouble viewing this segment, you can see it here.

Put Down Your Phone

If you are working a program of recovery, there is a good chance you see people on smartphones even during 12-Step meetings. Given that the program revolves around community and fellowship, it is fair to say that smartphones can be a distraction from the program. Cutting one off from their support network. Certainly, there are going to be times when you need to use your phone, but being cognizant of your relationship with the device is of the utmost importance.

Test yourself, try to go through a whole meeting without looking at your phone. If you find yourself getting anxious during the self-prescribed moratorium, it is a good sign that you have developed an unhealthy relationship with your phone. It is probably something you are going to talk to your sponsor about. People in recovery already have the roadways leading to addiction paved, it is important that you have roadblocks like your program firmly in place, lest….

Going Forward…

Family Recovery Specialists (FRS) understands the sensitive relationship between substance abuse and mental health problems. Offering a highly individualized approach to adult and teen substance abuse and mental health treatment, we provide family therapy, intensive outpatient rehab, at-risk programs, therapeutic consulting, crisis management, and recovery coaching for guests suffering with substance use and mental health disorders. Definitely we are aware of the number of clients who present with a co-occurring anxiety disorder, a disorder which can be intensified by the over-utilization and reliance on smartphones. If you need more information or would like to discuss your teen or young adult child’s behaviors, contact FRS today.

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