Apps to help and prevent substance misuse
For people who have substance misuse problems quitting, though difficult, is often easier than staying away from the substance. Relapse rates are very high; for alcohol these can be up to 80% following a detox.
There is evidence that ongoing treatment---be it pharmacological or psychological---can improve the relapse rate. Pharmacological options are limited and ongoing psychological support is in short supply. In an attempt to bridge this gap mobile apps have been used. A study from the University of Wisconsin looked at the effect of an app on people who had undergone hospital-based detoxification for alcohol. Three hundred and forty nine people were randomised to either follow up or the A-Chess app which supplies information and support.
The results were cautiously positive with a small reduction in number of 'risky' drinking days, however there wasn't a reduction in negative consequences of drinking.
Another study from Sydney Australia used an internet based cartoon story as part of a programme to educate school children about alcohol and cannabis. Again there were positive results but with some limitations.
As smart phones and other technologies increasingly become part of our day to day life it is important that good quality studies are carried out into their use in helping people with mental health problems. As part of this we are really excited to have gained ethical approval for our study looking at the efficacy of our app for agoraphobia. We will start recruiting for this in September so if anyone is interested please drop us a line.