Treating Addiction? There’s an App for That

What if a smartphone could help people struggling with addiction stay sober? A team led by David Gustafson, a UW-Madison professor of industrial and systems engineering, has developed the Addiction-Comprehensive Health Enhancement Support System (A-CHESS), which provides personalized support to people recovering from alcoholism.

A-CHESS connects users via peer-to-peer messaging and discussion forums, helping them form valuable support networks. The app offers guided-relaxation audio and gives users the ability to video-chat with counselors. It also discourages users from responding to triggers: the GPS system in the smartphone can detect when a patient nears a high-risk location like a bar, and sends an alert asking if he or she wants to be there.

In a randomized study of patients with alcohol use disorders, roughly half of the 349 participants used the A-CHESS smartphone app in addition to treatment as usual. The study found that not only did 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.