Mathias Hallberg expert guest in the A-course: Week's Best Podcast Episode on Spotify


Can we become addicted to our mobile phones? How do I quit snuff? And is Sweden ready to legalize cannabis? In a new episode of Emma Frans and Clara Wallin's podcast The A-course, Mathias Hallberg, Professor of Molecular addiction research, gives useful tips to everyone who wants to break habits and comments on the results of the legalizations implemented by several countries.

Mathias Hallberg expert guest in the A-course

In a new episode of the A-course podcast, Mathias Hallberg, Professor of Molecular addiction research, joins hosts Emma Frans and Clara Wallin to answer some of our most asked questions about addictions. The episode, Mobile, nicotine, cocaine - What makes us most addicted? (Mobil, nikotin, kokain – Vad gör oss mest beroende?) is arousing great interest and is hailed by Spotify as Best Podcast Episode of the Week.

“Addiction-related issues are always relevant. Not least at the beginning of the year when many struggle with breaking and changing habits: We promise ourselves to stop smoking, start exercising and eat more healthy. In parallel, we are experiencing a polarized legalization debate, and my ambition is to contribute both useful tips and nuanced knowledge, and it's inspiring to hear that the program is well received,” says Mathias Hallberg.

The podcast starts out defining what an addiction really is. The WHO diagnosis manual specifies six criteria: Strong need, Difficulty to control consumption, Withdrawal symptoms, Adaptation, Increasing lack of interest in anything other than the substance and Continued consumption despite damage - three of which must be met in the last year to be classified as addicted. For a long time, diagnoses were linked to substances but in recent years, gambling and, in several countries, gideo games have been added. The question many are now asking is whether we can become addicted to our mobile phones?

“Using your phone does not in itself generate dopamine release. However, what happens on the screen, when we get a "like" or other forms of confirmation, can provide stimuli for our brain's reward system. And if we replace the word "drug" with "mobile phone" when applying the WHO's criteria, it might seem comparable to other addictions, but still: no, we cannot become addicted to a phone,” Mathias Hallberg reasons.

Other questions that many of us ask ourselves are why some people seem to be more at risk to develop addictions, why certain substances make us extra vulnerable, and not least why one person can seemingly easily leave bad habits behind while others seem to struggle against both headwinds and uphill?

“There are numerous individual factors interacting: Our upbringing, family and social surroundings have an impact. So does our genetic inheritance where certain combinations provide protection and others increase the risks. Of course, exposure to a drug, like availability and consumption, is also of great importance. In addition, some drugs are more addictive than others, particularly cocaine, which acts quickly, while heroin and its painful withdrawal symptoms is probably the most difficult to quit.”

Next stop: Sweden's restrictive drug policy. In particular, the legislation against cannabis is facing criticism, and today we experience a wave of legalization taking place in North America and parts of Europe. Among the main arguments are a limitation of the illegal market, reduced access for minors and increased control of the products. But what can we learn from the experiences in the countries that have taken the step? And should we follow their example?

“It will take some time before we can draw certain conclusions from the legalizations carried out so far, but based on early indications I find it difficult to see that the possible positive effects will prevail and I am today absolutely against legalization. Regarding the decriminalization discussion, I advocate that users with an addiction should primarily receive care, while first-time users should be able to be prosecuted. In short, Sweden has a reasonable drug policy, but I would welcome an increase in healthcare efforts in order to reduce the harm done.”

Listen to the entire podcast Mobil, nikotin, kokain – Vad gör oss mest beroende? on Spotify. You can also hear the entire interview with Mathias Hallberg in the Överkursen podcast in the episide ”Legalisering är jag absolut emot”.



Uppsala University invites to the Göran Gustafsson Symposium 2024. With a focus on drug-related death, trauma, anxiety and the Swedish drug enquiry, we meet Göran Gustafsson Lecturer in Medicine Andrew Holmes (USA), Mathias Hallberg, Hanna Ljungvall, Fred Nyberg (Uppsala University), Lotta Borg Skoglund ( SMART psykiatri) and Håkan Leifman (KI) reporting from the absolute frontline of addiction research.

Göran Gustafsson Symposium 2024

Time  Tuesday 9 April, 13.00-17.00
Venue  Uppsala University Main building, sal X, Biskopsgatan 3
Register • Fri entrance
Program & Information  Vägval • Att anta beroendets utmaningar


Mathias HallbergMathias Hallberg, Professor
Department of Pharmaceutical Biosciences

Text: Magnus Alsne, photo: Mikael Wallerstedt  m fl

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Last modified: 2024-04-04