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Substance Abuse and Addiction Health Center

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Smartphone App May Help People Overcome Alcoholism

Study found more abstinence, less 'risky' drinking among A-CHESS users


"This type of application can help people learn ways of resisting alcohol use outside of a controlled setting like an addiction center," Krakower said.

The app has been in development for six years, and was funded by federal grants, Gustafson said.

The clinical trial involved about 350 participants who successfully completed treatment for alcoholism in five residential programs -- three in the Midwest and two in the northeastern United States.

In the weeks prior to their release, half the patients were given a smartphone with the A-CHESS app. Their counselor then helped them program the app to provide custom support.

For example, the app could contain the locations of their favorite bars, and when they lingered near one the app might play a video of the person recounting their misery as an alcoholic, or audio of their daughter begging them not to drink, Gustafson said.

"It does seem a little intrusive, but for people who are really battling with alcoholism, they need a lot of this type of monitoring and ongoing support," Krakower said. "They do well in controlled settings, but when they leave the center and go back into their environment, they are at risk for relapse."

A-CHESS appeared to provide solid benefits for patients during the next year, even though they only had access to the app for the first eight months following treatment, the trial results showed.

By the end of the year, about 52 percent of patients using A-CHESS had remained consistently alcohol-free, compared with about 40 percent of patients who received traditional support.

They also experienced half the risky drinking days -- about 1.4 days on average versus 2.75 days for the comparison group members.

At this point, the app is pretty pricey and not available to the general public. "To join our research consortium, agencies pay $10,000 a year for access for up to 100 patients," Gustafson said.

A company is being formed to commercialize A-CHESS, however, and the app could soon become available to the public through online Android and Apple stores, he said.

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