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A mobile app to fight drug cravings

A mobile app to fight drug cravings

Posting in Technology

The iHeal mobile app uses biosensors to track the body's physiological changes in the face of a drug craving, helping users identify and overcome them.

Drug users trying to quit their addictions undergo behavioral therapy to teach themselves how to overcome cravings. But once people leave the clinical setting, the tricks they learned in therapy often stop working because, once back in the swing of everyday life, it's more difficult to recognize when a craving is coming on.

The iHeal mobile app hopes to help addicts identify when a craving hits. The user would wear a bracelet with biosensors measuring metrics associated with stress such as heart rate, body temperature, and electrical currents in the skin. When the sensors pick up an anomaly, they zap a message to the mobile app -- which runs on Android -- which will then ask the user to submit data about mood, cravings, and current activity.

Over time, the app will learn what physiological changes are associated with the particular person's cravings. And then, when a craving arises, the app will try to distract the person by delivering a "soothing song, video, or distracting game or app to get you through the moment," writes Cassie Rodenberg of Scientific American Blogs.

The iHeal app is being developed at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center by a group led by toxicologist Edward Boyer. On Thursday (February 25), the group published preliminary data on the biosensor-app platform in the Journal of Medical Toxicology. (PDF)

It's not perfect, however. Users in the study did not want to wear the biosensor bracelet because of the potential for stigmatization. The researchers also still need to work out data security kinks.

Photo: The iHealth app, unrelated to the iHeal app featured here. Flickr/Juhan Sohin.

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Hannah Waters

Weekend Editor

Weekend Editor Hannah Waters is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn. She writes a blog on the Scientific American network, and has written for Nature Medicine and The Scientist. She holds Biology and Latin degrees from Carleton College. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure