Every family has someone with an addiction problem. The problem is, no one seems to know what the causes are, or what is the best treatment.

Can smartphone apps save us from addiction? Are tried and true methods like abstinence and tough prison sentences a better option?

Here are five simple facts that you should know about addiction.


  1. What is addiction and who is affected?


The intense pleasure effect from illegal drugs uses natural pathways in a deep part of the brain, called the limbic system. Limbic structures are involved in primitive feelings such as fear, anger and also intense pleasure.

Pleasure is triggered by chemicals being released across limbic system pathways.

Pleasure is nature’s way of saying ‘eating’, ‘having sex’ and ‘maintaining loving relationships’ are good for the species. For example, oxytocin is a ‘feel good’ chemical released when we experience love from social bonding.

A drug high occurs is when artificial drugs switch on these pleasure pathways.

While Illegal drug abuse does occurs across all social groups it is far higher in disadvantaged groups.

Statistics show that by far the worst hit are rural, indigenous communities and children from broken families. Factors include the collapse of manufacturing and farming jobs, the disintegration of traditional family structures and generational welfare.

In America, deaths from drug overdose in poverty stricken rural areas are being now being referred to as ‘deaths of despair’. 

In Australia, the death rate for Indigenous Australians between 35 and 54 is between six and eight times higher than that of the wider population, with half of male deaths and four out 10 female deaths occurring before 50.

Australian has the world’s highest rate of methamphetamine abuse, and rural communities are the worst hit.

So addiction is mostly (but not always) linked to loss of jobs, family, relationships and the deep pleasure and satisfaction they give.

“I think all regional communities here are just like some parts of the United States,… which are suffering from the effects of transformation fueled by globalization, industry closure, the effects on local farming. The traditional means of employment are going. They are sitting ducks.”
Sam Biondo Head of the Victorian Alcohol and Drug Association

2. What are ‘traditional’ therapies and do they work?

For over 100 years opioid drugs have been made illegal in Western Countries. People with addictions have faced social shaming, imprisonment and ‘rehabilitation’.

The success rates and been lousy. At the same time addiction rates have risen, along with smaller families, higher rates of divorce and the collapse of blue collar jobs.

…’about 40 to 60 percent of people who receive treatment will slide back into addiction, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. …That’s just the rate for patients who’ve been through quality programs, staffed by professionals with advanced clinical degrees.’

3. What are new ‘digital therapies’ and how do they work?

Most of the new digital addiction therapies have 6 main components.

Cognitive behavioural therapy. Know as positive rewards or ‘gamification’, digital therapies use a smartphone app to closely monitor everyday behaviour and give immediate reward or punishment for staying off illegal drugs or relapsing.

Home drug monitoring. This involves regular breath or saliva testing, done with a smart device or a smartphone.

Targeted drug therapy. This involves an specific and personalised dose of a less addictive opioid drug to keep people stable while they are stopping binge drug addiction behavior.

Peer support. Like CBT, this gives instant feedback from a close group of peers, via smart phone communications. It allows honest conversations and positive support to be given 24/7.

Medical teleconferencing to stay in touch with doctors and psychologists, without the need for bricks and mortar appointments.

Artificial intelligence to crunch big data from population studies, and keep the person’s treatment on the best and most accurate pathway.