New app helps fight addiction

Credit: Adobe Stock
Credit: Adobe Stock

A free app developed by Polish scientists helps those struggling with addiction to maintain abstinence and understand what causes the sensation of craving.

Called the Nałogometr (addiction meter), the algorithm can alert the user in advance about the increased risk of relapse.

The app has been development since 2018 as part of the Polish Nationwide Addiction Study conducted by Dr. Mateusz Gola and Maciej Skorko from the Institute of Psychology of the Polish Academy of Sciences. 

With the help of 10,000 volunteers, the scientists were able to develop an algorithm that determines behavioural patterns that promote reaching for stimulants. The free application is designed to help people addicted to substances such as alcohol, cigarettes, drugs and new psychoactive substances, as well as compulsive behaviour such as uncontrolled overeating, playing computer games, using pornography or gambling.

It also determines the factors that favour a person's sensation of craving. Sometimes such craving is stimulated by anxiety, sadness or procrastination (delaying duties).

The application asks the users questions several times a day. This is to motivate the users to consider what is happening to them, what their stress level and mood is and how it is related to the desire to reach for stimulants or engage in compulsive behaviour. 

Dr. Gola said: “First of all, a person gains awareness of the times and factors leading to a relapse.

“Thanks to Nałogometr, a person struggling with addiction can realize that craving returns, for example, at a specific time of day and in specific circumstances. The algorithm stitched into the mobile application suggests how to counteract the slip-up, it proposes the necessary changes, for example concerning sleep or stress stimuli, and suggests ad hoc actions that will help to get through the difficult moment when it comes.”

According to experts, up to 70 percent of people who have completed addiction therapy return to their previous behaviour within two years.

Addiction therapy specialist Dr. Bohdan Woronowicz from the Consulting Center AKMED said: “Addicts admit that the main reason for this is the feeling of a strong, internal compulsion to reach for a given substance, for example alcohol, or difficulty in refraining from compulsive behaviour such as eating. 

“In Poland, over 25 percent of people regularly smoke cigarettes, and about 20 percent drink alcohol in a risky or harmful manner, including about two percent who are addicts.”

In collaboration with the NGO Monar, the app’s creators equipped Nałogometr with meditation, cognitive-behavioural therapies as well as well-being and mindfullness exercises.

Co-creator Maciej Skoro said: “Support methods are tailored to specific crises and include scientifically documented mechanisms. The role of digital therapies is to decrease, in several dozen minutes, the levels of stress, stimulation and anger, which promote addictive behaviour.”

Everyone who installs the app on their phone will not only gain a chance to learn more about themselves, but will help in a scientific study designed to overcome addiction at the social level. The application is free, does not contain advertising and does not collect personal data about users.

By the end of August, the creators want to collect new data to refine the personalized online help module in Nałogometr.

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