Smartphone App Helps Recovering Alcoholics Stay Sober
March 28, 2014

Smartphone App Helps Recovering Alcoholics Stay Sober

Enid Burns for - Your Universe Online

A sobering new app is in the works from researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Through research, the group is developing an app that appears to help patients with alcohol use disorder to deal with triggers.

The app will help patients leaving a residential recovery program, Time's Alexandra Sifferlin reports. The app has audio-guided relaxation techniques. It also has alerts that signal when a patient enters high-risk situations such as nearing a previously frequented bar.

"Alcohol dependence is a lifetime psychiatric diagnosis with relapse rates similar to other chronic illnesses. Continuing care for AUDs has been associated with better outcomes, but patients leaving treatment for AUDs typically are not offered aftercare," according to a statement released by the JAMA Network.

Researchers developed the app by studying patients at a treatment center. The authors randomized 349 patients with alcohol dependence leaving three residential programs. One group had access to the Addiction-Comprehensive Health Enhancement Support System (A-CHESS) application.

"Patients who used the smartphone application reported fewer risky drinking days (when a patient's drinking in a two-hour period exceeded four standard drinks for men and three for women) compared with controls (an average 1.37 fewer risky drinking days in the smartphone application group). A standard drink is a 12-ounce beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits. Patients using the smartphone application also had a higher likelihood of consistent abstinence from alcohol," according to the study’s authors.

"The promising results of this trial in continuing care for AUDs point to the possible value of a smartphone intervention for treating AUDs and perhaps other chronic illnesses," said one of the researchers, in a statement.

Apps such as A-CHESS could become a valuable part of recovery for many alcoholics. "The study authors believe apps like theirs could be used to augment alcohol-dependent treatment," Time's Sifferlin wrote.

"If other studies confirm our results, such applications could provide the type of care identified as most effective—that is, care that continues at least 12 months and involves proactive efforts to change patient behaviors," Sifferlin quoted the authors as saying.

The app actually includes a panic button, reports Lindsey Tanner for the Associated Press.

Results on the study were based on patients' self-reporting whether they resumed drinking, Tanner added.

"Mark Wiitala, 32, took part in the study and says the app helped save his life. He said the most helpful feature allowed him to connect to a network of peers who'd gone through the same recovery program. The app made them immediately accessible for an encouraging text or phone call when he needed an emotional boost," Tanner wrote.

While a network of peers is crucial, the panic button and alerts also help patients maintain their goal of sobriety.

"The panic button can be programmed to notify peers who are nearest to the patient when the button is pushed. It also offers links to relaxation techniques to calm the patient while waiting for help," wrote Sifferlin.

"We've been told that makes a big difference," said David Gustafson, the lead author and director of the Center for Health Enhancement Systems Studies at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, in the AP piece. He's among developers of the app, nicknamed A-CHESS after the center. Gustafson said it is being commercially developed and is not yet available.

The study is published online in the JAMA Psychiatry journal.