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App Intervention to Treat Addiction (and It Runs on Android)

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Goodbye AA, hello smartphone? University of Massachusetts and MIT researchers have developed a technology to sense the body’s biophysical changes, detecting periods when a drug abuser is most likely to use, and to offer innovative intervention. If you have a craving, the platform conjures a soothing song, video, or distracting game or app to get you through the moment. (See a PDF of the study.)

This technology, dubbed iHeal, contains an algorithm that aims to understand and predict when addicts will have cravings based on user input and data collected from a sensor band, including body motion, skin temperature, skin conductivity. And after detecting a craving, it will offer personalized multimedia support. Over time, and data collected, the platform will come to anticipate the user’s craving periods and preferred methods of support.

The drawback? You have to wear a wrist sensor. Researchers are working through kinks and fine-tuning feedback mechanism and innate biosensor hurdles: for instance, opiate abusers have higher physical responses to cravings compared to cocaine abusers, and the sensor will need to accommodate and recognize the differences. If successful, the platform could potentially offer something most of its real-life behaviorist counterparts can’t: guaranteed in-the-moment help.

Cassie Rodenberg About the Author: I write on culture, poverty, addiction, and mental illness: I explore things we like to ignore. I also teach public school in New York City's South Bronx. Follow on Twitter @cassierodenberg.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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