05.12.2018 change 05.12.2018

App developed by Polish psychologists will help to study and combat addictions

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Nicotine, alcohol, illegal substances, gambling, pornography, overeating - addiction can have different forms and different courses. Psychologists from the Polish Academy of Sciences have developed the application Nałogometr (Addiction meter), design to support users who recover from addictions and help scientists to better understand the causes of relapse.

Nałogometr is a free application for Android phones, which allows to monitor user`s addictive behaviour - explains one of the creators of the application, Dr. Mateusz Gola from the Institute of Psychology of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw. Maciej Skorko from the institute also participated in the work.

The application was created as part of the Nationwide Addiction Study. It is used to study addictions to substances such as alcohol, cigarettes, drugs and legal highs, as well as addictive behaviours such as uncontrolled overeating, playing computer games, using pornography, compulsive sex or gambling.

The application asks the user questions several times a day. "Answering usually takes less than a minute. It motivates users to think about what is happening to them, what their stress levels are, their moods, and how it is related to the desire to reach for a drug or engage in addictive behaviour" - says the scientist. Users are also asked what helps them in their fight against compulsive craving.

After 30 days of using the app, the user automatically receives an individual report. The information in the report includes the course of the addiction in a given period and tells what exactly the compulsive craving is related to, that is, the internal compulsion to become addicted.

The study is anonymous.

Nałogometr was created as part of the Nationwide Addiction Study. If many people use the application, the researchers will be able to better understand the factors that help reduce compulsive craving and addictive behaviour, and understand the factors contributing to relapse.

RELAPSE - A BIG PROBLEM

"Relapse is a huge problem and there`s a lot we do not understand about it" - says the scientist. In the case of alcohol addiction, 65 percent people who successfully complete therapy - in closed or outpatient settings - return to addiction within two years. In the case of substances such as heroin, it is even more difficult to win with the addiction: over 80 percent recovering addicts experience relapse. In the case of gambling it is also about 70-80 percent.

According to Dr. Gola, part of the problem is that addiction is often treated as a uniform problem. In group therapies, all participants are offered a uniform approach to therapy. "But there could be different factors that lead to a similar effect - the symptoms of addiction. If we identify several separate groups of addicts, perhaps it will be possible to offer them separate, more effective forms of therapy" - the scientist from the Polish Academy of Sciences hopes.

"In one person, alcoholism can be the result of inability to cope with stress, and in another person it may be caused by a mood problem. Someone else could have a problem with controlling impulses to immediately do something pleasant. We want to use the data from the application Nałogometr to capture such dependencies. To achieve this, we need to involve many people struggling with addiction" - says the researcher from the Institute of Psychology PAS.

Researchers also want to capture the differences and similarities in the course of various addictions, such as gambling addiction or heavy smoking.

SUBJECTS BECOME EXPERTS

"We are aware that our research is not possible without the active involvement of people with addictions. They are the biggest experts when it comes to the problem they are struggling with. For example, someone addicted to pornography or alcohol knows best how this addiction looks from the inside and what helps in recovery from this addiction. We encourage people with addictions to make their knowledge available to us for further analysis" - he says.

"It is a science created together with the people, for whom it is made" - he adds.

Asked whether he is afraid that the application could bring an unwanted effect and remind users about their addiction several times a day, Dr. Gola replies that he is not. "We have used an earlier version of this application in scientific research. When we finished the study, which lasted 10 weeks, people wanted to continue using the application. Many people said that it gave them the opportunity to look at themselves, made them think about the source of desire to give in to addiction" - says the psychologist.

OBLIGATION OR PLEASURE?

Dr. Gola advises that people who wonder if they are addicted should honestly answer the question: "Why do I use the substance or behaviour?". If it`s only for pleasure, the risk of addiction is lower. "But if you use a given substance not only for pleasure, but, for example, to escape from problems, cope with stress, quickly improve your mood - the risk factor is greater" - he says.

STATISTICS OF POLISH ADDICTIONS

Mateusz Gola notes that smoking tobacco products is one of the most common addictions in Poland. "Currently, 24-30 percent of the Polish population smokes, and in the 1990s it was 40 percent, so the drop is significant" - he says.

Alcohol addiction is also a big problem. "People who struggle with problematic drinking or alcohol addiction constitute about 11-12 percent of the population" - he says. As he points out, the exposure to alcohol in Poland is huge. "There is approximately one point of alcohol sales per 300 people" - he says.

It is much more difficult to investigate the level of drug addictions, addictions to legal highs or so-called new addictions (including heavy use of pornography or computer games) on the scale of the whole country. It these cases, there are no accurate data.

PAP - Science in Poland, Ludwika Tomala

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