Phone app keeps recovering alcoholics from falling off the wagon

Recovering alcoholics who used an experimental smart phone app had a far easier time avoiding alcohol for up to a year after they left rehab compared to those who didn’t use the app. That’s based on a new trial involving nearly 350 recovering alcoholics, which found that those randomly assigned to use the app had an average of 1.4 binge drinking days per month — consuming three or four alcoholic beverages in two hours — compared to 2.8 days for those who didn’t get the app.

The users of the app, called A-CHESS, were also 22 percent more likely to maintain their abstinence from alcohol, according to the study published on Wednesday in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

“The system has a GPS that tracks when users are near their favorite bars or other places where they tend to drink,” said study leader Dr. David Gustafson, director of the Center for Health Enhancement Systems Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, who helped develop A-CHESS. “It will ping them when they’re close to these places and continue to send out pings if they haven’t moved past them.”

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

After two or three alerts, the phone will ring with a recorded message from a friend or family member emphasizing how important it is to stay sober. Users can press a panic button if they feel like they’re spiraling out of control, which will automatically contact their sponsor or others who have offered to provide support. The app also has relaxation exercises and games to distract the mind from cravings.

As of now, the system is only available for purchase by rehabilitation centers, Gustafson said, who pay $10,000 a year to provide it to 100 patients. It will be available for consumers to download in July, but the cost hasn’t yet been determined.