Should Artificial Intelligence Be Used in Addiction Treatment

In 2013, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration indicated that roughly twenty-three million Americans suffer from substance use related to illicit drugs or alcohol, but less than twenty percent of these individuals actually receive the addiction treatment they need. Some of the more popular and well-known forms of addiction treatment, such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, can work wonderfully for some individuals and fail to work at all for others. This is actually a pattern that is often seen across all other forms of addiction treatment programs: what works wonderfully or some may not work well or at all for others. One of the major issues is an individual’s inability to sufficiently cope with relapse triggers. In an effort to solve this problem, new technologies are being tried out, including artificial intelligence. But determining whether AI could actually help in addiction treatment begins with understanding addiction itself.

How Addiction Works

Addiction begins, of course, with drug use. While the list of reasons specific individuals choose to take drugs can appear to be endless, it normally boils down to one key thing: they have encountered a problem that they are either unwilling or unable to resolve on their own. Drugs, with their ability to suppress undesirable sensations and stimulate desirable sensations, become the solution. Unfortunately, taking drugs to handle one’s problems is not altogether unlike putting a band-aid on a broken leg: completely ineffective.

An individual who has determined that drugs help them in some way is likely to continue using drugs indefinitely. This will lead them to drug tolerance, where their body no longer responds to the same type and amount of drugs as it once did, and then to dependence, where their body actually relies upon drugs in order to continue operating normally. Dependence is usually connected to addiction, wherein the individual is driven to compulsively continue using drugs despite their damaging effects on his health and life.

Treating Drug Addiction

Even where an individual has determined that drug use is harmful to them and they would like to put an end to their relationship with drugs, they can find it quite difficult to do so. Not only must they overcome their physical dependence upon and craving for these substances, but they must also address the underlying physical, mental, and emotional causes and effects of drug use. It could be argued that this is precisely where any addiction treatment fails–in its inability to address an individual’s specific and unique causes and effects of drug use. And perhaps this is why some suspect that AI may be able to help.

Artificial Intelligence has the ability to collect, store, and compute with a great wealth of information–far more than any single individual can do. It would seem that this could be enormously helpful in designing a very specific addiction treatment program for a specific individual. That said, there are two main issues to consider: an addiction treatment program does not have to be radically different or specific in order to achieve results–it simply needs to acknowledge that the individual must address all the causes and effects of drug use and responsibly handle them, and AI cannot provide the same support and encouragement an individual would receive from addiction specialists.

Drug treatment centers are successful not because they use artificial intelligence or any other fancy method of making intricately detailed and specific programs for each individual. They are successful because they address each individual as an individual, and have a program that requires the individual to take responsibility for and resolve each and every cause and effect of their drug use. In this way, the individual can come to understand why they turned to drug use in the first place, how drugs affected their relationships, health, and life, and how they can live without drugs in the future. In other words, instead of relying on artificial intelligence to help one achieve recovery they should rely upon their own intelligence–and the support and encouragement of caring, trained, and experienced addiction specialists.

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