• June 2019 •

From Juan Navarro, Executive Director
Los Angeles Centers for Alcohol and Drug Abuse

Technology and Behavioral Healthcare

It’s kind of hard to remember how it was before mass technology — the internet, computers, gaming, and smartphones are just so much a part of our daily lives now. But can technology replace counseling in behavioral healthcare?

To me, counseling is one of the most human of all activities and personal interactions between client and therapist are at its very core. Substituting that precious human connection for technology seems too   impersonal. Still, it’s helpful to remember that it’s not so black and white for the 19 million Americans (ages 12+) who have behavioral health disorders, many of whom are living isolated lives. The 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Healthfound that onlyfour million of those suffering people found treatment (19%).

Numerous studies indicate that people who feel socially isolated have more mental healthand substance use disorders. In a tragic cycle of cause and effect, people who are hurting, hurt those around them. Consequently, many substance users lose friends, damage family relationships, and are left alone – physically, mentally, and even spiritually. Yet in their isolation, the at-a-distance quality of technology provides a way for hurting people to connect to the world by cruising the web, checking social media, and texting.

Since they’re already online, doesn’t it make sense to use technology as a recovery connection? For one, the Alcoholics Anonymous “Big Book”is available in the iTunes store. TheSober Gridmobile app helps people find immediate support in their current location, and provides connection to a recovery support system at the push of a button. Other recovery appstrack alcohol consumption, provide motivational messages, and make instant connection between patients and physicians possible. I say let’s keep all doors to treatment and recovery open.

While you’re at it, check out L.A. CADA’s website at www.lacada.com


Suzi L.

“My name is Suzi and I have more than one addiction, lots, I guess.  I ended up living in a homeless situation in a river camp because I had to get away from people telling me what to do and who to be. So, at the river, I could use and drink whenever. I could be alone when I wanted to, and with people when I wanted to. Plus, I had my phone, so I was never really alone anyway. But it’s not perfect in the camp either, there are a lot of people trying to scam you or get something. Some man in Colorado I was texting said come over there, and I was ready to go. But I overdosed that night.  I always say ‘fortunately’ because I found out later that the man in Colorado was wanted by the FBI. The overdose led me to getting into treatment and I am working on my addictions to drugs, alcohol, men, and believe it or not, the internet. None of that is healthy. Do I have advice for other people with addictions? Yeah, please stay in treatment. The grass is not greener out there – that grass is gonna kill you.” 

Technology Addiction

In the 1970’s, we heard “too much of a good thing is wonderful”. Today, not so much.

Technology addiction is defined as frequent, obsessive technology-related behavior, and it’s causing problems. Over-dependence on tech can significantly impact our lives, causing sleep disorders, a false sense of relational security, a sedentary lifestyle, and increasing need for instant gratification. While we need technology to survive in a modern social world, addiction to certain facets of its use can be socially devastating. That’s because technology stimulates the pleasure systems of the brain in ways similar to substances. Just like alcohol and drugs, it can provide 24/7 rewards — as a boredom buster, a social lubricant, and an escape from reality. Technology addiction disrupts normal patterns of mood and socialization and causes the loss (or non-development) of in-person social skills. Tech withdrawal consequences span from mild annoyance to extreme and chronic isolation, anxiety, and depression. And like other behavioral health issues, tech addiction is progressive. Technology-addicted individuals may become increasingly unable to distinguish between lived and alternate realities. But how do we know when we cross over from technology user to addict?

Learn what Psychology Today has to say: Could You Be Addicted to Technology?