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Artificial Intelligence In Addiction Treatment

Artificial Intelligence is a topic that is in the news on a daily basis. From phone apps that turn our selfies into flattering portraits (e.g. Lensa) to high-powered assistants (e.g. ChatGPT), to archaeological research. AI is finding its way into daily life and into larger human endeavours.

Standing on the edge of what many are calling the dawn of the age of AI, it’s interesting to consider how this rapid proliferation of artificial intelligence might change the landscape of addiction treatment and recovery.

Leveraging modern technologies for therapeutic purposes is nothing new. Smartwatches, phone apps, and virtual reality headsets are just some of the technologies used in therapy these days. Is AI really that different? Could it be a game-changer? And if so, how?

AI-Assisted Research For Addiction Treatment And Recovery

While “AI” can certainly feel like a buzzword these days, it’s really worth restating that—much like the invention of the internet has impacted virtually all human endeavours—this technology is widely accepted as having the potential to bring about a dramatic change in our lifetime. Including in the field of addiction treatment and recovery.

One of the characteristics of AI and machine learning is the ability to work with huge datasets that are beyond the scale of traditional computing. In other words, as AI becomes increasingly powerful, it may allow us to answer new questions about a variety of topics. 

If that sounds too abstract, consider the following ways that AI could support research around treatment and recovery.

Artificial intelligence could be used to help with…

  • Identifying patterns in behaviour and physiological data indicative of addiction, allowing earlier detection and intervention.
  • Analyzing large amounts of data from clinical trials to identify effective treatments and predict outcomes.
  • Identifying new targets for medication development, such as genes and brain pathways that are involved in addiction, as well as new therapeutic compounds (i.e. pharmaceuticals).
  • Improving the accuracy of diagnostic tools, such as questionnaires and imaging techniques, to help identify the underlying causes of addiction.
man analyzing artificial AI data

Rather than a pipe dream, these are all very realistic applications of AI for researching addiction treatment and recovery.

Could AI Be Used In Treatment And Recovery?

The short answer is yes

In addition to the research-centred applications of AI above, there are many ways that AI could be used in treatment. Some examples include:

  • Developing personalized treatment plans based on individuals’ specific characteristics and needs.
  • Monitoring and tracking addiction recovery progress remotely via wearable devices or phone apps; analyzing behaviours for signs of relapse and providing real-time feedback and support.
  • Developing AI-powered chatbots that provide emotional support and self-help resources for people recovering from addiction.
  • Connecting peers in recovery with one another with a higher success rate than human matchmakers.

These are just some of the ways AI could be leveraged for treatment and recovery. But all of this begs a question…

Will AI Be Able To Address The Complex Needs Of People In Addictions Treatment And Recovery?

Despite the potential benefits of AI in addiction treatment and recovery, there are also several areas where it may fall short. 

For example, it’s unlikely that AI technologies of the near future, such as virtual therapists and chatbots, will be able to fully understand or address the complex and nuanced emotions and experiences underlying addiction. More importantly, these tools may not be able to provide the same level of empathy and understanding as human therapists; nor will they be able to replace the human touch and interactivity that can be a critical part of addiction recovery. What’s more, many people will likely never be interested in talking to AI for reasons that are deeply intuitive to us.

Human beings are complex creatures, existing in relation to the world around them. The AI-powered tools of the near future may not be able to consider things like cultural context, individuals’ personalities, or other social and environmental factors that can influence addiction and recovery.

Another consideration for therapeutic AI use is the way that artificial intelligence can require a huge amount of personal data, such as physiological and behavioural data. When it comes to collecting and analyzing this sort of data, there are also a lot of privacy concerns that come up, such as questions about how that data might be used in the future. Any technologies that require such data would need to mitigate against potential harms arising from that data’s misuse.

Finally, it’s important to note that the therapeutic use of AI is still in its infancy; there’s a long way to go to validate its effectiveness in addiction treatment. More research will need to be done not only to understand how these tools can be effectively integrated into existing treatment and recovery programs but also to ensure that they are used in ways that are safe and ethical for individuals in treatment recovery.


Written by: Ionatan Waisgluss

Ionatan Waisgluss is a writer, educator and tech professional with a passion for personal and professional development. He lives in the qathet region of British Columbia.

Sunshine Coast Health Centre and Georgia Strait Women’s Clinic are world-class centers for addiction treatment and mental health. They take an approach that recognizes the importance of the physical, psychological, social and spiritual aspects of individuals in treatment and recovery. If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use or mental health, give us a call today.

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