As the American Psychiatric Association redefines "Addiction" to specify particular substances, new technology and human curiosity continue to churn out new ways to escape our problems and alter our moods. "Digital drugs" are just the latest in a millennia-long history of mind-altering distractions, but they're simply sound files that can be shared and enjoyed like any other MP3. Still, they're so popular and misunderstood that officials are banning them everywhere from Saudi Arabia to Oklahoma.
Should you be scared, or is it just a passing trend? We've answered a few of the most common questions about the virtual files that are causing such a real-world commotion.
Officially known as binaural beats, these psychologically stimulating sound files simply consist of two tones. They're meant to be enjoyed via headphones, with one tone constantly playing in each ear. Because the frequencies are ever so slightly different, the subconscious detects the difference as the brain attempts to adapt. This often results in a state of relaxation, but your results depend on the specific file and the frequencies of the tones.
When people use the word "addictive" to describe something — whether it's a recreational or pharmaceutical substance, a virtual sound or game, or a biological necessity like food or exercise — they usually think they mean one of two things. Either the item or substance itself is capable of "hooking" someone and creating a lifelong dependence or it's simply so appealing that it has a much greater potential for misuse.
The latter could literally be true about almost anything. Our choices determine the limits we set for ourselves, and, if we choose short-term desires over long-term goals, our behaviors may be destructive. This is true whether we find an "escape" in drugs, digital drugs, or simply wallowing in our own emotions. Of course, the former definition of "addictive" implies an independent force that chips away at your free will until your brain only recognizes one choice: to continue using.
Addiction is a convenient narrative for people who don't want to take personal responsibility for their behavior. However, for those who seek to strengthen their moderation skills or develop productive coping mechanisms, it's a bleak and final perspective that doesn't allow much room for personal progress — or scientific fact. If sound waves — or any substances — can actually rewire the brain and force you to rely on them, nobody has been able to prove it yet.
Of course, substances like opioids and alcohol do physically affect your body in short term ways, until quitting will cause withdrawal symptoms. However, their effects stop when the initial detox period is over. Drug use of any kind doesn't take away your ability to make other choices; it simply seems like the most attractive option because you neglect to acknowledge or seek out any alternatives. If you seek emotional relief in binaural beats, try to understand the problems you're escaping and consider exploring new ways to cope as well. There are always options to any choice-substance use, digital drugs, or anything else and the key is to decide what the best decision and final outcome is for you.