Smartphone app aids alcohol addiction treatment

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Screen capture of the A-CHESS main menu icons on a smart phone: My Profile, My Messages, Team Feed, Support Team, Discussions, Meetings, Panic Button, Events, Recovery Info, News, Our Stories, Recovery Podcasts, Easing Distress, Surveys, My Settings.

The A-CHESS smartphone app supports addiction treatment with discussion forums, a support team, and even recovery podcasts.

University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers have developed a smartphone application they have shown can be effective in treating people who struggle with addiction. 

A team in the Center for Health Enhancement System Studies led by David Gustafson, a UW-Madison professor of industrial and systems engineering, created the app to help patients with alcohol use disorders. The results of the team’s study were published March 26, 2014, in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

The app, the Addiction-Comprehensive Health Enhancement Support System (A-CHESS), was designed to provide continuing, personalized support to people recovering from alcoholism. 

The A-CHESS app has various features that provide this support—for example, it provides access to peer-to-peer messaging and discussion forums among A-CHESS users, offers guided-relaxation audio, and gives users the ability to video-chat with counselors. The app also discourages users from responding to triggers. For example, the GPS system in the smartphone can detect when a patient nears a high-risk location (a bar she used to frequent) and sends an alert asking the patient if she wants to be there.

David Gustafson

Industrial and Systems Engineering Emeritus Research Professor David Gustafson.

The JAMA Psychiatry paper outlines the results of a randomized study of 349 patients with alcohol use disorders, in which roughly half used the A-CHESS smartphone app in addition to treatment as usual. The study found that not only did the A-CHESS app users report fewer risky drinking days (days in which drinking exceeded four standard drinks for men and three for women in a two-hour period), but also that smartphone app users had a higher likelihood of consistent abstinence from alcohol. 

Numerous media outlets have covered this advance, including:

ABC News: Sober smartphone app aids boozers’ recovery: Study

Health: Smartphone app may help people overcome alcoholism 

livescience: Smartphone app may help people recover from alcoholism 

Medical Daily: Recovering alcoholics can use smartphone app to reduce number of risky drinking days

Reuters: Mobile app may help people recovering from alcohol abuse: study

US News and World Report: Sober smartphone app helps recovering alcoholics stay sober; its GPS keeps them away from bars

Yahoo: Sober smartphone app aids boozers’ recovery: study

Huffington Post: ‘Panic button’ just one of the features of smartphone app for recovering alcoholics

The Japan Times: App helps American boozers to stay sober

The Daily Mail: The sober phone: App for alcoholics can set off an alarm and call for help if they stray too close to a bar

Boston Globe: Smartphone app helps alcoholics stay sober: study

For a long list of media coverage of this story, click here.

John Steeno