From creatures of habit to digital zombies - are we all addicts?

2 August 2017
Addiction can threaten our physical, mental, social and financial health

Experts from the University of Sydney discuss what drives addictive behaviours at the next Sydney Ideas Health Forum.

Addiction can threaten people's physical, mental, social and financial health.

Drugs, smoking, alcohol, and gambling account for the lion’s share of human addictions. Worldwide, it’s estimated that 240 million people are addicted to alcohol, more than a billion smoke, and over 15 million people inject themselves with drugs, such as heroin.

With advancements in technology have come a range of new compulsions and obsessions, including dependence on the use of smart phones and online gambling, pornography and gaming.

What drives addictive behaviours? And why do so many of us behave compulsively, often in ways that cause harm to ourselves and negatively impact our relationships?

Some of Australia’s foremost clinicians and researchers will lead a panel on the subject of addiction tonight at University of Sydney. Our expert panel will reveal the mental, physical and social origins of addiction and highlight discoveries that are improving people’s lives.

Dr Andrew Campbell, an expert in cyber-psychology from the Faculty of Health Sciences, says that while technology such as apps for improving mental health can be very beneficial, having access to mobile devices 24/7 is having a huge impact on our lives.

“Technology claims to improve our life and relationships, but is it sometimes making it worse?,” he said.

“Recent studies show that we check our phones between 85 and 130 times a day - sometimes much more. From relationship problems to driver safety, researchers need to assess the impact of continuous use of online engagement.

“Almost all Australian teenagers, two-thirds of primary school-aged children and one-third of preschoolers now own their own tablet or smart phone. With this, there is a risk of a growing ‘digital zombie’ generation – that is, being connected online all the time but never really living a full and healthy life that is disconnected from the digital world.

“In an era where FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) is driving tech use, we need to understand the short and long-term effects of being connected online indefinitely.”

Professor of Addiction Medicine Kate Conigrave said many people with addictions have suffered from a major past trauma, such as childhood abuse or separation from a parent.

“People can turn to substances for relief from their distress,” she said.

“For each of us, our risk of becoming dependent on alcohol or a drug is determined by a mix of our own genetics and the environment in which we were raised and have lived.

“Boredom and lack of opportunity can be triggers to risky substance use.  Helping young people to feel connected and valued can help prevent alcohol or drug problems.”


  • Professor Kate Conigrave: Conjoint Professor Addiction Medicine, Head, Indigenous Substance use Programs Addiction Medicine, Central Clinical School, University of Sydney
  • Dr Andrew J. Campbell: Senior Lecturer in Psychology  Faculty of Health Sciences, expert in e-mental health, cyber-psychology, and child, adolescent and family mental health, University of Sydney
  • Professor Nick Lintzeris: Clinical Professor, Discipline of Addiction Medicine, Central Clinical School, University of Sydney, and Director and Senior Staff Specialist, Drug and Alcohol Services, South East Sydney Local Health District, NSW Health

Event details:

When: 6.00pm - 7.30pm

Where: Charles Perkins Centre Auditorium, John Hopkins Drive, University of Sydney, MAP

Cost: Free and open to all with online registrations required

Sydney Ideas Health Forums:
Each year, the University of Sydney’s health and medicine disciplines host a series of public health forums that bring together experts and interested people to discuss key healthcare issues affecting millions of Australians. For the full 2017 program, see Health Forums page.

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Media and PR Adviser (Medicine and Health)