Can a smartphone make addiction recovery smarter?
An abundance of apps are now available to assist recovering alcoholics, especially in early sobriety. They range from free to about $2.99 and are available for both Android and iPhone. Some are 12-step oriented; others help to do the blood-alcohol math (input the amount of alcohol ingested plus body weight—output Blood Alcohol Concentration). There are gratitude journal apps and Bible-based apps that quote passages from scripture in order to help you to cope with difficulties and painful emotions. Meditation, journaling, affirmations, and motivational approaches are all themes covered by various apps for recovery aimed at alcoholics and addicts who want to quit and stay quit.
A review of the A-CHESS Study
One new offering is called A-CHESS (named for Addiction- and the Center for Health Enhancement Systems Studies at the University of Wisconsin), which is still in development but may be unique among apps for recovery in that a follow-up study has been done that indicates real and positive results. A-CHESS has multiple useful functions, which include:
- transmits daily messages of support
- performs weekly interviews that then inform counselors about the person’s condition
- utilizes the phone’s GPS tracking to determine if a user is dangerously near pre-programmable locations that constitute “slip areas” (favorite bars, etc.)
- simplifies access to counselors and support groups
- offers a “panic button” that provides distractions, reminders, or access to a contact who can help during moments of crisis
In the study, 271 people were tracked for one year after treatment. They were randomly given a smartphone with the A-CHESS app along with instructions to participate in standard follow-up treatment, or given follow-up treatment alone. The results were statistically significant, indicating that the app users, as a group, had more than a ten percent advantage in terms of success in maintaining sobriety.
Apps are adjuncts to addiction recovery
A key point to remember is that these tools can be useful as adjuncts to recovery, and are not meant to replace the tools learned in treatment or 12-step programs. For example, in the A-CHESS study, although 78% of the smartphone-equipped participants claimed to be at least thirty days free from alcohol eight months after treatment, 67% had the same success rate without the app-enabled phone. It might be interesting to offer the app to a group that has indicated a need for treatment but refuses it, but the clear conclusion from the study outcome is that treatment and follow-up are the primary drivers of successful recovery.
The use of apps for recovery in general, though not studied as a category, may cut both ways in terms of effectiveness. For those whose commitment to their recovery is grounded in what they have learned in treatment or within their recovery communities, apps can help in a number of ways. The simple act of acquiring an app for recovery can signify an interest in enhancing recovery and a willingness to use whatever tools are available. Conversely, those who think an app might be an easy fix for their addiction problem will be in for disappointment. Recovery takes commitment and action. If the app serves to remind the recovering person of this fact, then it could definitely be a useful tool.