Wearables that help cope with addiction

Technology in general isn’t exactly what you think of when it comes to dealing with addictions. More and more people feel like they are addicted to their smartphones and think of a digital detox but actually there are some digital tools that can help with many kinds of addictions. Follow this overview on how wristbands, augmented reality glasses and implants might soon help many people to improve their lifes.

Wearables dealing with tech addiction

Tech addiction is one of the fastest growing addictions today and can have a tremendous impact on the user’s quality of life. Smartphones have given us a constant connection to our friends, the news and services we like. In consequence our brains are more and more craving for the latest updates in Email, Facebook, twitter and the likes. People are checking their smartphones up to 150 times a day, just to make sure they are not missing any calls or updates. Many wearable tech companies want to help users to get more independent from their phones by notifying them if anything important has happened in the digital sphere and let them then decide if it is worth to take action. Notifications are one of the biggest features in the smartwatches of the present and might hopefully help technology enthusiasts to feel more present at the moment, without fearing to miss anything on their mobile device.

If notifications can’t solve the problem and tech is your procrastination trap, there’s another solution which might help with that. Pavlok is a wristband focusing on habit change using different triggers and motivation mechanics to make you stick to your goal. While it is still in development, you should be able to let Pavlok monitor your tech usage and guide you towards more productive habits. The device not only uses positive reinforcement if you keep on track, the habit forming system also uses penalty if you fail. Checking your smartphone too often or wasting time on Facebook might ultimately lead to an electrical shock, if being blamed on Facebook for not reaching your goal isn’t enough.

How wearables can help with quitting smoking

Besides tech addiction which became a problem only recently, substance addictions such as smoking are still common with many people. Smartphone apps that try to reinforce willpower by focussing on the benefits of quitting have been around for years, and with „Stop Smoking! for Wear“ the first smartwatch app for Android Wear that will help you to quit is now available. Instead of taking a cigaret into your hand, the app uses the watch’s display at your wrist constantly reminding of how many cigarets you have avoided and how much money you have saved.

Stop Smoking for wear

If self-knowledge and self-motivation are not enough, a dedicated wearable for delivering drugs such as nicotine might help addicts to deal with their cravings. Chrono Therapeutics are developing a programmable transdermal drug delivery platform that provides users with a dose of nicotine, just when their craving gets worst. Based on a dedicated algorithm, with the wearable the nicotine is delivered in sync with the alternating cycles of blood nicotine levels smokers are used to. With this „natural“ nicotine replacement therapy, Chrono Therapeutics claim their wearable drug delivery platform will be much more effective than nicotine patches or nicotine gums.


People who are not yet ready to give up smoking but are willing to reduce it, wearables might also help. The typical gesture of smoking can be detected by a wrist worn gyroscope which is integrated into many smartwatches, as startup Kiwi Wearables proposes. Not into wristbands but looking for a solution to track smoking anyhow? A smart tooth implant might also do the job by analyzing your jaw movements with a built in accelerometer. The technology which has been presented by researchers from the University of Taiwan was able to detect different activities such as smoking, drinking and eating with an accuracy of 94%, possibly making the smart tooth a future option to keep track of cigaret consumption.

Can wearables help to deal with alcoholism?

Alcohol is another substance that is often abused and the WHO estimates that there are 140 million alcoholics worldwide. While a few drinks every now and then can provide health benefits, too much of the toxic substance negatively affects productivity and wellbeing and can lead to serious health problems affecting liver, heart, brain and many other organs. Mobile breathalyzers that let people measure their blood alcohol levels and track them on their smartphone are a first step into the right direction towards a more conscious drinking behavior. Because those devices are not really wearable and passive and having to take readings manually is a bit of a hurdle, current technologies have limitations regarding mainstream adoption. Transdermal sensors that measure alcohol levels on the skin are now in development and could solve the problem of unhandy breathalyzers. The electrochemical solution simply analyzes the ethanol concentration within perspiration which, similar to alcohol concentration in the breath, corresponds to the concentration in the bloodstream. Once the technology gets integrated into smartwatches and other wearables, keeping track of a healthy drinking behavior might become as easy as tracking steps and sleep. A technology that might just allow that was presented by a winner of the 2012 Wearable Technologies Innovation World Cup. Opto-Care uses laser spectroscopy to measure blood alcohol levels and many other health metrics.

Wearables against cocaine and heroine

Wearable technologies can even help with some of the most addictive drugs. Fortunately there is only a very small market for a dedicated wearable cocaine sensor but researchers at Baylor College of Medicin in Houston found another way of tracking drug consumption. In their trial with a Zephyr biosensor, researchers could measure an increased heart- and breathing rate after cocaine use with addicts who participated voluntarily in the study. Rather than just detecting drug consumption, virtual reality can be used to actually prevent it. Drug addicts can face their temptations in hyper-realistic virtual worlds which can reconstruct situations that set off cravings for cocaine, heroine and many other drugs. This modern version of the relapse therapy allows the former addict to develop strategies to cope with difficult situations, such as a friend offering them some drugs. For best results the experience needs to be as realistic as possible, so the simulated cannabis party is enhanced with the smell of marihuana. As Virtual Reality is still in its infant stage, the researchers are also working on using the same therapeutic principles on smartphones and tablets, hopefully bringing the benefits to a much broader audience.


Will wearables release people from their addictions?

Even if most of the solutions are still in development, wearables might play a fundamental role in fighting addiction in the future. Just by tracking behavior people might have the chance of becoming more aware of their alcohol and nicotine consumption and smart drug delivery platforms might help preventing a relapse when cravings get worst. Being close to humans like not other technology, wearables might hopefully soon assist people attempting to change their behaviors. For a true breakthrough, wearable solutions will not only rely on great hardware but also on software and interaction models based on the latest psychological insights. Combining both might enable us to use wearable computing platforms to their fullest potential – and to make life more connected, healthy, free and enjoyable.

Interested in health wearables? Stop by at our booth at world medicine forum MEDICA.

Images: Pavlok, Chronos Therapeutics, Stop Smoking for Wear, dailymail.co.uk 

Previous articleGlass devices have the potential to liberate the physician from the PC – Interview with Paul Lukowicz
Next articleSmall size – double the fun?