Addiction is the roughest beast many people will ever face down. Addiction colonizes your brain, transforms your personality, and makes the need for any given substance the driving force of every day. Even something that was, until recently, as socially acceptable (and even encouraged) as smoking can be an incredibly addictive and controlling.
Nicotine is as addictive as cocaine and heroin, but unlike those outlawed drugs, cigarettes are readily available just about anywhere you can buy bread or a newspaper. That kind of temptation can’t help. But smokers keep trying to quit. The CDC estimates 40% of smokers attempt to quit each year, and they do so using a range of methods including counseling, behavioral therapy, nicotine supplements, and prescription medications.
Now a new method for beating addiction of all kinds has been given a stamp of scientific legitimacy. It’s new technology, but utilizes the most important tool for breaking the addictive cycle: a personal, strength-giving connection.
It does this through video conferencing.
Cessation Therapy Via Video Conferencing
The preliminary findings of a study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse suggest that online counseling via video conferencing is an effective way to quit smoking.
Smokers involved in the study underwent weekly remote therapy sessions for eight weeks, and used nicotine patches under expert instruction. And, aside from the obvious physical distance, smokers were subject to the same interventions and therapies they would normally receive during an in-person session.
More than a third of those who participated in the video conferencing sessions–the study also measured the effectiveness of therapy conducted over the phone–were smoke-free three months after the sessions ended.
That’s a pretty good success rate, considering 90% of attempts to quit fail.
And it’s not the first study to suggest video conferencing could help.
A Canadian study carried out in 2012 found there was no difference between the quit rates of smokers who attended in-person counseling and those who did so remotely.
What is interesting about the National Institute on Drug Abuse study, however, is not so much why counseling works over remote video chat, but why people may prefer to undergo such treatments via video conferencing rather than in person.
The Privacy of Online Therapy
The study focused on Korean-American women, a group who are historically reluctant to seek help to quit smoking due to the cultural stigma attached to female smokers.
For these women, the chance to undergo anti-smoking treatment from the privacy of their own homes, and therefore in secret, made the remote option appealing.
Where video conferencing triumphed over the obvious alternative of telephone counseling was in the establishment of a personal connection between patient and therapist.
Several study participants noted that recalling the face of a person who had a personal interest in their health made it easier to resist moments of temptation.
That unique mix of the personal and the private offered by video conferencing counseling could also benefit people battling other kinds of addictions, especially dangerous and illegal ones.
Narcotics Anonymous Online
Narcotics Anonymous, one of the more well-known support networks for those battling drug addiction, already lists a series of online meetings from its website—even if it doesn’t formally consider these groups part of the organization.
But if a person looking to quit drug use isn’t ready for that level of group involvement, then a more intimate replication of a one-on-one private counseling session via video conferencing may help.
Here, just as in the case of the Korean-American smokers, video conferencing offers a shield from the social stigma that western cultures attach to drug use.
There are already some programs available online that mix self-help with regular video chat sessions, but it could go even further than that. Now that there is some scientific backing to the notion that anti-addiction therapies can work via remote connection, it is time to introduce remote treatments as an option in local clinics and local doctors’ offices.
Addiction Treatment Via Video Conferencing
Introducing such services would not only increase patient privacy, it would also make it easier for patients to keep appointments and to reach out in times of temptation. The high no-show rates of addicts at therapy and doctor’s appointments is a constant struggle for professionals looking to treat patients with addictions, and video conferencing offers one possible solution.
After an initial consultation with their local general practitioner, smokers, drug users, or even those fighting alcohol addiction could set up a series of ongoing sessions with their doctor or a referred therapist, that could be completed online.
Some U.S. colleges are currently testing a similar arrangement to encourage students to seek treatment for stress and anxiety.
Fighting addiction is difficult, so any advantage or incentive that can be found is of potential benefit. Video conferencing is a shiny new tool in the belts of medical professionals, a tool with huge potential to help people win the fight with addiction.