Smartphone App for Recovering Alcoholics?


A newly-developed smartphone app has helped alcoholics steer clear of the sauce.  David Gustafson, industrial engineering and preventive medecine professor at the University of Wisconsin, took on the issue of relapse for alcoholics and how to prevent it, involving 271 adults over the course of a year.

The A-CHESS app, or “sober app” as it has been also called, enjoyed great success throughout the course of the study, published Wednesday in JAMA Psychiatry.  A-CHESS stands for Addiction-Comprehensive Health Enhancement Support System.  The app includes a panic button that users could access as a method to reach out to others when they were feeling as though they wanted a drink.  Those who used the app were 65 percent more likely to abstain from drinking than those who made use of traditional recovery tools, such as treatment group support.

Mark Wittala, 32, was given a smartphone with the app as part of the study, and he said the app saved his life.  The app is tailored to each person and is equipped with a GPS that alerts users when they are approaching a bar or a liquor store in their neighborhood.  Wittala said the smartphone app’s most useful feature was its ability to network with others who had experienced the same treatment program as he, so he was able to immediately access a range of peers that he could lean on for emotional support if need be.

The app also texts or voicemails the person from time to time to ask how the person is doing.  Should the answers seem disquieting, and the app receives enough of them, a counselor is immediately contacted in order to help the recovering alcoholic.  When the panic button is pressed, the smartphone immediately offers exercises to help calm the recovering alcoholic, which many said were helpful to them.

Gustafson, who also helped develop this smartphone app for alcoholics, said that while the app is not yet available commercially, it seemed to help recovering alcoholics quite a bit.  At the end of the eight-month period that recovering alcoholics had the smartphone, 78 percent reported that they had not had a drink in the previous 30 days, compared to 67 percent of those who had only done a treatment program with post-treatment support.   In fact, the group with the smartphones reported an average of 1.39 risky drinking days compared to 2.75 risky drinking days for those in the group who only had post-treatment support groups to turn to.

A-CHESS, the smartphone app for recovering alcoholics, gave users a real-time tool to use during their recovery period and offered immediate support where users could immediately tap into their support system should they feel the need.  Dr. Gail Basch, who heads up the addiction medicine program at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, was not involved in the study but believes that the study with the app gave addictions and medical professionals alike a glimpse into the process of recovery.  She noted while a standalone mobile app may not be helpful on its own, coupling that with tools like support from family and friends may go a long way towards helping alcoholics continue the long road in recovery.

By Christina St-Jean


JAMA Psychiatry

Wisconsin State Journal

Houma Today

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