Digital learning: Another weapon to tackle addiction

Dr Kunal Patel 23 Jul 2019

Globally, we are seeing drug addiction as a growing issue for both the individuals involved and the impact it has on society. With the likes of the Louvre taking the Sacklers’ names off their walls due to their role in the promotion of opioids and the opioid crisis, particularly in the US, substance use disorder is prominent on many people’s minds.

In 2016, 275 million people worldwide, which is roughly 5.6 per cent of the global population aged 15–64 years, used drugs at least once, yet, only about 10–15% of people with an alcohol or drug use disorder received care for the condition. This indicates that there must be more training and awareness raised for addiction psychiatry, as well as further input from governments and society. It has been established for some time that medical schools are varied in how they teach about addiction and even when they do, the amount taught is minimal. Therefore, at a postgraduate level, can we upscale the knowledge needed to deal with addiction and substance use disorder?


Bhavya Bairy and her colleagues from the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences in Karnataka, India, decided to investigate how this may be possible using digital tools. Approximately, 8% of the population in India is actively using the internet with per annum growth of 9% of urban users and 26% of rural India, therefore, providing digital tools to tackle substance use is a growing must. By performing a literature review, digital methods uncovered methods of learning including MOOCs, e-learning, virtual reality, simulations, flipped classrooms and blended learning. Pedagogical tools such as gamification were also analysed. Though there is a trend to produce the best ‘games’ out there, it was revealed that trainers and educators in medicine prefer quizzes and simulations focussing on retention of knowledge and skills. The authors even highlight a project they have embarked on with a US partner, running tele-clinics, allowing learnings to collaborate and share best practices around addiction.

The authors provide a broad scope of digital learning in addiction and mental health, however, overall, they discovered that formal training in addiction psychiatry during postgraduate curricula is very short or even absent. The paper provides a great summary for all those looking at digital tools for addiction education, but it should also be used for a basis for other topics. Continual training is needed to tackle substance use disorder and the use of tools that were uncovered is essential. I myself would also add, that these tools be used to educate and support those that are indirectly impacted by drug use and addiction, namely parents, loved ones and the community.