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Getting Smart with a Smartphone: Exciting New Continuing Care for Alcoholics

17 Jul

Researchers from the University of Wisconsin School of Engineering and North Shore Medical Center in Salem, Massachusetts studied whether patients leaving residential alcoholism treatment with a smartphone app to support their recovery had fewer risky drinking days than controls.
A randomized clinical trial involving 3 residential treatment programs in the Midwest and northeastern US included 349 patients who met the criteria for DSM-IV alcohol dependence when they entered residential treatment.
They were randomized to treatment as usual (n = 179) or treatment as usual plus a smartphone (n = 170) with the Addiction-Comprehensive Health Enhancement Support System (A-CHESS), an application designed at the University of Wisconsin to improve continuing care for alcohol use disorders.

Treatment as usual varied across programs, but none offered patients coordinated continuing care after their discharge.
The A-CHESS app provided monitoring, information, communication, and support services to patients, including ways for patients and counselors to stay in contact.

The intervention and follow-up period lasted 8 and 4 months, respectively.

Outcome was measured in risky drinking days (to be exact, the number of days during which a patient's drinking in a 2-hour period exceeded 4 standard drinks for men and 3 standard drinks for women). Patients were asked to report their risky drinking days in the previous 30 days on surveys taken 4, 8, and 12 months after discharge from residential treatment.

For the 8 months of the intervention and 4 months of follow-up, patients in the A-CHESS group reported significantly fewer risky drinking days than did patients in the control group, with a mean of 1.39 vs 2.75 days (mean difference, 1.37; 95% CI, 0.46-2.27; P = .003).

The findings suggest that a multifeatured smartphone application may have significant benefit to patients in continuing care, post residential treatment, for alcohol use disorders. There is a free text of this study here:

Citation:  Gustafson DH1, McTavish FM1, Chih MY1, Atwood AK1, Johnson RA1, Boyle MG1, Levy MS2, Driscoll H3, Chisholm SM4, Dillenburg L1, Isham A1, Shah D5. A smartphone application to support recovery from alcoholism: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA Psychiatry. 2014 May;71(5):566-72.

Belleruth Naparstek

Psychotherapist, author and guided imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek is the creator of the popular Health Journeys guided imagery audio series. Her latest book on imagery and posttraumatic stress, Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal (Bantam Dell), won the Spirituality & Health Top 50 Books Award