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Addiction Recovery: will technology change the future of addiction treatment?

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Last Updated on August 8, 2021

Statistically speaking, if you know ten people in the UK, at least one of them is likely to enter a near futile battle with addiction, and possibilities of long-term recovery are extremely low. The typical drug rehabilitation alone is not working for people enough, not even slightly. Luckily the foundations for the creation of next-generation therapies have been laid that could change such numbers on their hands. 

Recent technological developments in our understanding of neural and biological networks involved in substance abuse disorders and psychological theories of behavioural change, together with the swift progress of technology-assisted shown that the critical moment is now. What is going to take?

It takes knowledge from the world’s best leading experts on facilitating life-long recovery and ending addiction, including therapists, thought leaders, and expert scientists. Their know-how and their perspectives fields are being united in order to create a holistic, multi-pronged, therapeutic systems that adapt to individuals and their support network in order to avoid relapse and indorse successful recovery.

woman hands up in front of green meadows

Image Source: https://unsplash.com/photos/TlBF3ZUVTvE 

The rise of technology-assisted care 

Technology-assisted treatments have shown great promise as it can help us think about and address the problem of alcohol and drug use from another direction. According to the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, the demand for substance use treatments is likely to grow. Experts still rely on psychotherapy to treat substance abuse. However, a great number of psychotherapies, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or GBT, motivational enhancement therapy, and contingency management with prize-based incentives, are effective, but they are short-term treatments. Why? Implementing them into the community has been challenging for many reasons. Often there is a lack of resources, time, and money for training as well as constant supervision to maintain a reliable skills-level.

The National Institutes of Health have recently supported several studies to both test and design computerized systems to assist and augment in-person medical practitioners to provide treatment and support recovery management. Currently, the National Institute of Drug Abuse and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration is cooperating in order to bring forward and implement technology-assisted care.  

Computer-based Training

The number of people who require treatment for drug and alcohol abuse is way greater than the number of clinicians available to assist and treat them. That being said, think about the rural areas where patients might have to spend a lot of time traveling greater distances for appointments while taking care of their families and their jobs. And oftentimes the cost and shame of getting treatment can get in the way of getting help. Moreover, even though they do receive substance abuse treatment, that does not mean they receive the most effective type of treatment. As illicit drug abuse increases in the UK, new ways to provide treatment are urgently needed.  

Luckily, computer-based training is one effective way to overcome the barriers of access to evidence-based treatments, including scheduling, traveling, cost, and stigma. Moreover, relying on computer-based training to treat one’s own addiction can be highly inspiring, as it can provide patients with a sense of “I did it by myself.”

How does computer guided treatment work? 

Researchers from Yale University have recently developed and studied “computer-based training for cognitive-behavioral therapy as a fully individual intervention. The treatment is entirely computer-guided and does not involve the assistance of the interaction of other healthcare professionals. The computer-guided treatment combines a series of games and video vignettes with actors to teach how to tackle one’s own substance abuse, how to deal with cravings, learn how to refuse alcohol and drugs, problem-solving, noticing and avoiding triggers and reinforcing decision-making abilities.   

Therapeutic Education System

A trial conducted by the NIDA Clinical Trial Network recently tested and delivered a behavioral intervention called Therapeutic Education System or TES.

TES comes along with package intervention of 62 interactive multimedia modules focused on increasing positive support for non-drug using activities. The 62 interactive multimedia modules are based on the Community Reinforcement Approach aiming at positive reinforcement and prize-based motivational incentives. TES modules also focus on relapse prevention skills and educational material in preventing HIV, hepatitis, and many other sexually transmitted diseases. Therapeutic education comes along with a wide range of inducements for abstinence and module completion: patients can earn draws and receive vouchers with either a prize or an encouragement message.

A recent study has shown that patients with different substance use disorders received either usual treatment or usual treatment in combination with TES. The result has shown that TES enhanced abstinence in these patients, but most significantly, TES worked wonders in abstinence among those who are actively using addictive substances at the begging of the study.   

Smartphone apps 

An observation made by David Gustafson and his colleagues at the University of Wisconsin showed that those exiting residential care for drug or alcohol use disorders are usually not provided with substantial aftercare. They theorize that the treatment system overwhelmed by labour-intensive programs and low funding procedures lead to attrition in treatment as only 1 of 4 patients succeeds in maintaining abstinence in the first year after treatment. To better longer-term results, they designed a smartphone program called the Addiction-Comprehensive Health Enhancement Support System that offers patients both emotional and therapeutic support.

A-CHESS comes along with a dynamic and static component, meaning that the program can initiate an alert whenever the patient is closer to a bar or any high-risk area and ask the patients why he or she wants to be there.

All these treatments have in common one trait, namely the use of technology to reproduce a therapy that’s already successful when delivered by a human, and they do it at the right time and place convenient for the patient. Given the numerous computerized interventions, we are optimistic that today’s technological advancements have become mature enough to capture some critical aspects of psychotherapy sufficient to improve today’s addiction treatment. Yet, computer programs have their limitations, and they still require research on how to better integrate them into existing treatment frameworks.