A New Smartphone App May Help Recovering Addicts

When returning home following treatment for alcohol addiction, you need all the help you can get, right? Experts agree that the best way to stay on track is to surround yourself with people who understand what you’re going through and offer positive support and guidance. Attending weekly meetings and 12-step groups isn’t always easy, though, and it leaves some recovering addicts with a lack of support and understanding. But, a new app may be changing the future for recovering addicts. Could it be right for you?

Smartphone Apps and Sobriety: Could We Have Something?

According to a study from researchers at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and published in JAMA Psychiatry, a new smartphone app shows promise by significantly decreasing the number of problematic drinking episodes experienced during the first year of recovery. Researchers admit that more testing is needed before the app can be deployed on a widespread level, but the initial research shows great promise for those who have had trouble sticking to a recovery plan in the past.

The app is called the Addiction-Comprehensive Health Enhancement Support System (A-CHESS) and is a system that involves over three decades of research. The app alerts users when they are within a certain distance from bars and liquor stores, allowing them to manage their emotional responses and make conscious decisions instead of emotional ones. The app also features relaxation techniques and simple games to distract users.

Perhaps most interesting is that the app has a “panic” feature that connects users to other people in recovery if they feel like they are going to relapse. We all know how important it is to have a strong support network, especially during that first year of sobriety, but unfortunately, some addicts lack this. When they want to use, they may not know who to turn to, and they end up relapsing. By using the panic functionality on the app, the user is immediately put in touch with real people who can help them.

What the Research Says about A-CHESS

The study was done by David Gustafson, professor of industrial engineering and preventative medicine at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Gustafson selected 349 adults who had completed rehabilitation programs and split them into two groups. One group included 179 adults that would continue to receive regular forms of treatment and support, while the second group included 170 adults that would receive the same treatment, as well as use the functions in the app.

The results were exciting. After 8 months, 78 percent of users who were in the app group said that they had not had a single drink within the past month, while only 67 percent of users in the non-app group said the same. Users in the app group also had a reduction in days when multiple drinks were consumed. Called “risky drinking days,” users with the smartphone app only had one of these days a month, compared to three a month for non-app users.

What’s more is that at the end of the study, 52 percent of users in the app group were alcohol-free at months 4, 8 and 12, compared to 40 percent for the non-app group.

The Future is Bright, but More Research is Needed

Some have noted that the study had limitations because most subjects were Caucasian and reported their own habits. Gustafson admitted that more research is needed, and this is only the beginning. But, he implies, the app was not made on a whim. It involves 30 years of research and bridges some of the hurdles that recovering addicts face in the early days of sobriety, such as creating healthy distractions, having time to manage emotional responses and an immediate connection to supporters.

If it’s true that an app like A-CHESS can help more people stay on track with their goals, treatment centers can easily put these tools into the hands of their clients. With further research, we will see what types of circumstances and for what individuals the app works best for.

At the current time, A-CHESS is being used by a handful of treatment centers, and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Using the app is not cheap, as it cost nearly $600 per person in the study. That said, that number pales in comparison to the $184.6 billion that alcohol and drug abuse cost the U.S. each year. Plus, as more people start using the app, (which is being commercialized at this time) the costs should drop.

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