App helps alcoholics break the habit

By Shayna Brouker • Published: June 6th, 2014
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Overcoming alcoholism can be riddled with as many hurdles as there are victories. Alcoholics need continual support to stay sober. So what if that support comes from a phone?

A new smartphone app called A-CHESS, or Addiction-Comprehensive Health Enhancement Support System, is a sort of virtual accountability partner, ranging in intensity from subtle to intrusive. It’s helping alcoholics beat their battles with drink. According to a study from the University of Wisconsin, those who use it are 65 percent more likely to stay sober after receiving help at a treatment center, compared with patients who did not use the app.

A-CHESS sends daily messages of support and once a week asks the user questions designed to help counselors evaluate the person’s progress with sobriety. It also connects users to online support groups and counselors.

The app is tailored to each individual and senses their triggers. A-CHESS tracks users’ location via the phone’s GPS, and sounds an alert if they are nearing a favorite bar or liquor store. The alert might be a video of a family member begging them to stop drinking, or even a fellow alcoholic bemoaning their struggles with alcohol.

Such vivid cues are key to keeping alcoholics in check outside of the controlled environment of a clinic or counselor’s office. A-CHESS even features a “panic button” that provides a stressed person instant access to interruptions, a reminder or even a friend close by who can come give them support.

Three-hundred-and-fifty participants tested A-CHESS, and by the end of the yearlong study period, about 52 percent of patients using the app remained alcohol-free. Among patients receiving conventional forms of support, only 40 percent stayed sober.

The app is not yet available for the general public, but the researchers say it could soon be in an Apple or Android store on a phone near you.