How IoT Reduces Harm for Substance Users

Devin Partida
How IoT Reduces Harm for Substance Users

The convergence of the Internet of Things (IoT) with mental health care has widened the scope of emerging substance abuse interventions. Wearable sensors and other smart devices have been useful in monitoring a person’s physiological signals and providing real-time updates to their caregivers to initiate harm reduction techniques. The generated data also provides valuable insights into the effectiveness of treatments, identifying possible gaps impacting the patient’s well-being.

Explore some of the most exciting applications of IoT in addressing substance use disorders and how they can contribute to public safety.

Remote Alcohol Monitoring

IoT-powered devices have been instrumental in monitoring alcohol usage, which can be extremely useful for high-risk individuals in recovery. These systems hold substance users accountable for their sobriety while receiving targeted professional care based on their usage activities. 

One example is Soberlink, a state-of-the-art breathalyzer with wireless connectivity, facial recognition, and real-time reporting. When used, the device measures the blood alcohol level and transmits the data to the patient’s primary caregiver. This system provides a seamless way to monitor and document a patient’s sobriety and provide instantaneous visibility into their sobriety journey. 

IoT alcohol monitoring solutions can also be helpful in post-DUI cases where the courts have instituted limited driving privileges. An example is the Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitoring (SCRAM) device. This ankle bracelet detects the presence of alcohol on the skin surface and transmits the information to relevant parties. According to a report submitted to the Department of Justice, SCRAM systems are used by over 600 courts and agencies nationwide.

Smoking Habit Tracking 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 16 million Americans are suffering from smoking-related diseases, including cardiovascular issues, cancer, and chronic bronchitis. 

Several IoT devices exist to provide users with real-time insights into their smoking habits. For example, Quitbit is a smart lighter with an LCD that counts how many times a person uses it to light a cigarette and can transmit the data to their phone. By monitoring how frequently one smokes, users can become more mindful of their harmful habits and, ideally, more motivated to quit. 

Another example is Cue, which works similarly, except it’s a smartwatch. This artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled device can help users manage their cravings better by tracking when they smoke. The app also encourages users to widen the gap between smoke breaks and concentrate on quitting, which can lead to dramatic improvements in their recovery. 

Self-Administered Behavioral Conditioning 

Experts say around 40 percent of a person’s life is controlled by good and bad habits. Substance users may benefit from IoT-based technologies that condition addictive behavior and habits out of their systems. 

Devices like the Pavlok 2 and 3 smartwatches enable this form of aversion therapy by associating negative behaviors with electric shocks to trick the brain into dissociating from the act. Each surge of voltage weakens the neural connection to substance abuse actions, eventually reprogramming the user’s subconscious to detest harmful activities. 

The Keen2 bracelet is another example of a smart behavioral conditioning device. It connects to a mobile app that records the user’s specific movements and uses it as a baseline for comparing potential bad habits, like intermittently moving the fingers to the lips, which suggests smoking action. The bracelet sends a gentle vibration to make users more aware of their activities and to help them adopt healthy coping strategies. 

Virtual Reality (VR) Therapy 

VR therapy is already used for treating post-traumatic stress disorders and phobias. With advanced interconnectivity, this application can also extend to mitigating harm from substance abuse disorders by eliminating physical barriers between users and their caregivers. 

For instance, a person on the brink of relapsing may quickly schedule a therapy session without having to visit the therapist’s office. They simply put on the VR goggles to recreate a virtual presentation of a safe and controlled environment while the health professional provides necessary care and encouragement in real-time. 

Automated Drug Management and Compliance

Some substance abuse treatments may require medication to inhibit addictive behaviors and increase abstinence rates. Without such prescribed remedies, individuals may resort to harmful actions that impact themselves and everyone around them. Smart, interconnected technology can facilitate automated drug management and compliance monitoring, ensuring the person receives the proper medication at the correct dosage. 

The KL 108 robot is one such technology that automates prescription filling by integrating it into pharmacy management systems and exchanging real-time data for efficient output. The machine oversees the Rx-filling process, taking just 30 seconds to select, count, and label the meds. 

This innovation also enhances telemedicine, allowing patients to consult with their primary physicians remotely. The physicians then send the prescription directly to the dispensing bot to fill out and label the meds for pickup. 

In-Vehicle Alcohol Detection and Speed Control

Drunk driving poses a significant threat to personal and public safety, leading to one death every 45 minutes in the U.S. As a solution, picture an IoT-enabled system that prevents a vehicle from moving if it detects the driver is intoxicated. There are already numerous studies regarding the viability of such smart systems.

One proposed approach uses near-infrared spectroscopy sensors that automatically measure the driver’s skin tissue for the presence of alcohol. If the system detects the driver is drunk, it stops the car immediately and alerts the person’s relatives. 

Another study proposes an IoT-enabled Arduino processor to power an alcohol sensor attached to the steering wheel. When the driver breathes, the sensor monitors the blood alcohol concentration and automatically notifies relevant persons if it exceeds the 0.5 mg/mL limit.

IoT Is Pivotal to Mitigating Harm Among Substance Users 

IoT and AI-based devices are fast becoming a mainstay in addressing addictive behavior and preventing potentially harmful activities. As the technology behind interconnectedness and seamless information exchange advances, these systems can facilitate improved targeted health services and enable caregivers to deliver timely interventions. 

Of course, patients have a crucial role to play in these developments, as only they have the power to commit to their recovery and forgo debilitating habits.

Devin Partida
Devin Partida - Editor-in-Chief, ReHack Magazine
Devin Partida is Editor-in-Chief of where she covers IoT, cybersecurity, tech investments and more.
Devin Partida is Editor-in-Chief of where she covers IoT, cybersecurity, tech investments and more.