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New Technology Enables Alcoholics: Harm Reduction... or Not?

Author: Justin Mckibben

It seems that 2014 gave us a lot of technology that the future of generation D will be taking advantage of and improving on for some time. There are constantly new ideas, concepts and inventions for electronic assistance and digital answers to all the worlds’ problems and inconveniences. So much even that some speculate we are becoming too dependent on our digital lives.

Social media, internet connectivity and the all mighty app have surely proven to show us new ways to stay in touch and stay informed. But many do say we have become addiction to our smartphones and our online social status, and that technology is creating behavioral disorders.

Still what has some potential to be more concerning is the new wave of what I consider to be Enabling Technology, and how these innovations may inspire people in perilous ways.

What do I mean by Enabling Technology?

When I call it Enabling Technology, what I mean is basically anything that we are building or programming these days that is enabling people to drink excessively, or behave in other ways that could create addictions or behavioral disorders from taking risks with drugs or alcohol, even online gambling.

Many of these things that are being invented are actually being done for good reason, so my intent is not at all to take away from the good nature behind these ideas. Many have been designed out of hope that the technology can provide some level of protection or assistance, specifically to drunk people, which is commendable.

A lot of Enabling Technology is being made in an effort to inspire real productive change, such as trying to prevent drug driving or sexual assault as a result of individuals who are too intoxicated.

Examples of Enabling Technology

Recently I have written about various pieces of what I would consider to be Enabling Technology, and not because I felt they were a bad idea but because they may do some good. But the more I read and write about these things, the more it comes to mind that they may be dangerous. A few of these inventions are:

  • Breeze Breathalyzer App

A Bluetooth compatible app lets the individual blow into a portable breathalyzer which pairs to a smartphone. If Breeze measures the user as over the legal limit and determines it’s not safe to get behind the wheel, the app places a call to a public transportation service.

  • Vive Wristband

Designed to show you and your friends how drunk you are by monitoring alcohol and dehydration levels in your body. The designers of the Vive believe that this new technology could help reduce the likelihood of sexual assault and other potential harms most commonly attributed to heavy drinking.

  • Drunk Mode App

Newest app that includes three main features:

  • “Stop Drunk Dialing” Allows you to select certain contacts which will remain hidden for 12 hours.
  • “Find My Drunk” enables you track your friends by GPS and vice versa.
  • “Breadcrumbs” tracks where you are throughout the course of the night and reminds you the next day where you went after a blackout.

What is the Problem?

As I read more about these new apps and ideas, I started to wonder each time I saw a new one, why do we need so many of these? While they are good for helping protect people, are all people so out of control that we have to rely on our cell phones to keep tabs on us? If so, then we probably have more alcoholics on the way than we expected.

Then I started to wonder something else; are we encouraging people to binge drink, or providing people with excuses to get black out drunk because your smartphone has your back?

Seriously, with an app that blocks calls to your ex, another one that calls you a cab, and another that monitors your alcohol levels through the night why would you ever feel the need to have some self-control? What would you possibly need to ‘turn down’ for? What could happen?

Well besides the fact that none of these apps or gadgets will magically remove the alcohol from your body or call an ambulance if you get alcohol poisoning, and none of them are a guarantee you won’t drive or get in risky situations, the possibility of people using these technological advancements as an excuse to consume excessive amounts of alcohol without fear or consequences can make a dent in developing a serious and deadly addiction.

Harm reduction is not the worst thing in the world, but at the same time it is not the most effective way to deal with heavy drinking. Harm reduction basically means the tactics used to provide ‘safer’ circumstances and parameters for addicts to use or drink, while trying to minimize the damages.

The Enabling Technologies I’m talking about are pretty much harm reduction tactics because they are designed to minimize the negative impact without actually educating the people or addressing the issue directly. These apps are practically saying ‘sure it’s OK to get hammered and do crazy stuff, because your phone will let you know if you’re going to die or where your friends disappeared to’.

One thing is for sure, actual people had an impossible time trying to convince me that I was drunk, so my iPhone isn’t going to have much luck either.

Opinion on the Outcome

Making apps and gizmo’s to help people get away with being blackout drunk (in my own opinion) is not really going to help with raising awareness. It actually helps people avoid being accountable. I’m not saying these are all bad ideas, and they will probably help a lot of people, maybe even save lives.

But for people like me, alcoholics, it is like saying ‘drink responsibly’ after a 5 minute beer commercial with sports cars and beach parties with supermodels and sky-diving.

Thankfully, I personally don’t need these apps so I won’t be investing. I do wonder how many brewing companies will though. For me it is good to know I don’t need my phone to tell me what to do, or what I did last night. I am fully aware of the ridiculous things I post on social media, and I never take a selfie I don’t remember.

While it is always a good thing for us to try and work toward preventing whatever damage we can, we still should consider all possible outcomes when we take action. Technology can save us some heartache, but just be sure to ask yourself whether you think this is something that will help you stay safe, or something that will help you save face when you are just prolonging your problems, because there are always real solutions out there. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135. We want to help. You are not alone.

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