In September 2017, the FDA approved an app designed to help treat substance abuse. This momentous event marked the first instance of federal regulators giving the go-ahead to a mobile app for addiction treatment, and observers are wondering: Could this idea actually work? We’re taking a look at the ins and outs to bring you an educated perspective.
Computers in Medical Treatment
Although this is the first mobile app to receive regulatory approval for addiction management, it’s not the first time technology has played such roles. For instance, past research suggests that computer-assisted training can help supplement standard addiction treatment in a cost-effective manner for patients and providers. This study focused on a particular type of treatment known as cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT.
Other studies have also highlighted the potential for lasting positive effects from using computer systems to deliver CBT. It’s important to note that many of these studies also stressed the importance of using computer-assisted training as an addition or supplement to standard treatments instead of as a complete replacement.
The App That the FDA Approved
The regulators green-lit an app created by a company called Pear Therapeutics. At the time of this writing, the company has produced a variety of digital therapeutic solutions with partners including NASA and other government bodies. In addition to phone apps designed for patients to use alongside their pharmaceutical treatments, the firm has created patient management software for clinicians.
What Does the Addiction App Do?
Traditional CBT is designed to explore the links between your thoughts, feelings and behaviors, such as addiction. Some models follow a four-step system where you work to:
- Identify your critical or harmful behaviors that need to change,
- Determine if these behaviors are things that you do too much or not enough,
- Evaluate how often, intently or for how long you do the behaviors, and
- Work to increase the good behaviors and decrease the bad ones.
You may encounter these basic steps in various forms, and they aren’t the only ways to do CBT. With so many distinct schools of practice, it’s hard to know precisely how the Pear Therapeutics app uses CBT, although the company acknowledges that the method plays a big role.
The Likely Outcome
We’re addiction treatment professionals first, so we think it’s great to see companies taking these kinds of initiatives. As Californians, we’re all for useful tech that promotes addiction management. We’d like to stress, however, that this early solution can’t replace traditional treatment, nor has it been approved to do so.
Where do we think this app for addiction treatment might lead? One of the driving forces in the spread of computer-assisted therapy was the fact that affordable computer technology grew increasingly accessible to a broader range of patients and clinicians. Now that almost everyone has a smartphone, the trend may repeat itself. From software that makes it easier to schedule numerous care sessions to apps that remind patients to take their medication on time, computers and mobile devices have obvious potential to improve treatment outcomes. As with any methodology though, they require the correct experience and guidance.
All addiction patients are different. No single therapy can succeed for all of them or even deliver the same results. Regardless which path turns out to be right for you, you’ll benefit most from choosing something that’s tailored to your specific needs. From there, you can supplement it with the extra tools and measures that suit you.
The future of addiction treatment will undoubtedly involve more technology. As problems like the opioid crisis swell, the number of drug addiction sufferers is also likely to increase. Some traditional treatment facilities may find it difficult to keep up with the limited resources at their disposal. The key lies in clinicians being able to maintain a consistent awareness of new tools and sharing such knowledge with their patients so that they can benefit from more informed perspectives on addiction management.
Want to find out more about the future of rehabilitation or discover if there might be an app-based solution that supports your path to recovery? Chat with a CARF-accredited staff member here at Ocean Hills Recovery to chart your course forward.
About the author:
Nicole earned her doctoral degree in Psychology with an emphasis on marriage and family therapy at California School of Professional Psychology. Her doctoral thesis was a grounded theory study exploring the role of alienation and connectedness in the life course of addiction. She specializes in treating addiction and trauma. She is certified in DBT and EMDR, two of the most highly regarded evidence-based methods in psychotherapy. Dr. Doss is a strong LGBT advocate and provides open and affirming support to her LGBT clients.
Dr. Doss’s earlier education included graduating cum laude from the University of California, Irvine in June of 2007 with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. While there, she received honors recognition by Psi Chi and Golden Key honor societies.
Nicole has been working with alcoholics and addicts in our California drug and alcohol rehab center as an advisor and counselor for many years. She is passionate about providing quality counseling and care to her clients. Her main focus is on integrating the 12 Step and disease models of addiction with experiential therapeutic theory. She is married to Greg; they have two adorable sons together and an energetic yellow Labrador Retriever.