A smartphone app for recovering alcoholics that includes a panic button and sounds an alert when they get too close to taverns helped keep some on the wagon, researchers who developed the tool found.
The sober app studied joins a host of others that serve as electronic “shoulder angels,” featuring a variety of options for trying to prevent alcoholics and drug addicts from relapsing.
Adults released from inpatient alcoholism treatment centers who used free sobriety smartphone apps reported fewer drinking days and more overall abstinence than those who got the usual follow-up support.
The results were based on patients’ self-reporting on whether they resumed drinking, a potential limitation. Still, addiction experts say the immediacy of smartphone-based help could make them a useful tool in fighting relapse.
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 had gone through the same recovery program. The app made them immediately accessible for an encouraging text or telephone call when he needed an emotional boost.
“It’s an absolutely amazing tool,” Wiitala said.
He said he continued to use it even though the study ended.
The study was published online on Wednesday in JAMA Psychiatry, a medical journal published by the American Medical Association
It involved 271 adults followed for a year after inpatient treatment for alcoholism at one of several US centers. They were randomly assigned to get a sober smartphone app for eight months, plus usual follow-up treatment — typically referral to a self-help group — or usual follow-up alone.
The app includes a feature asking periodic questions by text or voicemail about how patients are doing. If enough answers seem worrisome, the system automatically notifies a counselor who can then offer help.
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.