Wisdom//

Beyond Peak Content: Can We Counter Digital Addiction with Digital Nutrition?

Digital drugs have become a real danger — and remain largely unregulated.

Shutterstock
Shutterstock

America’s War on Drugs, which started during the Nixon Administration, has now lasted longer than World Wars I and II, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan combined at a cost to taxpayers of more than $51B annually.12 That’s more than the entire combined budgets of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic (CCBHC) Expansion Grants, and at least seven other major grant programs all devoted to substance abuse or mental health support.3

But today, we’re staring down a very different challenge to human health and prosperity, with similarly risky dimensions of addiction, and increasingly epidemic proportions. The villain? Digital drugs: the powerful brain chemicals and mood-regulating neurotransmitters that are triggered by digital devices, digital content, and indiscriminate consumption of digital assets.

Illicit substances have long commanded headlines, and will continue to test the capabilities of healthcare practitioners, policy makers, and members of the law enforcement community. Opioids in particular will continue to factor prominently in an ongoing national conversation about mental health and public safety.

But prohibited plants, powders, and prescription pills are no longer the only variety of drugs urgently deserving our attention. Digital drugs are a far bigger issue. We estimate that the battle over physical drug trafficking in the U.S. directly impacts an estimated 30M Americans: about one in 12.4 Digital drugs, on the other hand, impact every person using devices and screens—hundreds of millions, just in America. It’s not just proscribed substances that have a profound impact on behavioural health — it’s everyday content.

Digital drugs have become a real danger — and remain largely unregulated.

It has become apparent that, at least with respect to the public health dimensions of drug policy, a key impediment to progress on the issue of addiction to digital drugs is the persistent focus on illegal substances and the concentration of time and talent on interdiction, eradication, or demand suppression of these physical drugs.

But it’s not just a matter of time or resource misallocation. At the moment, digital drugs are completely unregulated, and their positive or negative effects on the body are poorly and unevenly communicated by clinicians. Agencies like the FDA do not yet have jurisdiction, and labelling practices are virtually nonexistent. Moreover, many policy makers still don’t consider digital materials or digital assets drugs at all.

And yet the digital drug dilemma is of nearly equal importance to the ongoing battle with prescription pain meds. Consider the fact that Americans, on average, spend around two-thirds of their waking hours consuming media.5 That’s more time than we spend eating, drinking and sleeping combined. And excessive screen-time has been strongly linked to increased rates of anxiety and depression, isolation, and suicidality.7

We’ve been through massive technological disruptions before. Each of them introduced profound challenges that might have seemed unique or even insurmountable at the time, but we managed to navigate our way through them.

    Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

    You might also like...

    Community//

    Food as Medicine; Health and Well-Being in Recovery

    by Lynn Smythe
    childhood trauma and substance abuse
    Community//

    The Link Between Childhood Trauma and Substance Abuse

    by Heather Hayes
    Well-Being//

    To End the Opioid Epidemic, We Must Expand Substance Abuse Treatment

    by Mitchell S. Rosenthal M.D.

    Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

    Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

    Thrive Global
    People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

    - MARCUS AURELIUS

    We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.