Are you a recovering alcoholic just getting out of rehab, wondering how the heck you’re going to manage staying sober when you leave your program? Have no fear! Just whip out your trusty iPhone, download the A-CHESS app, and voila!: Technologically-induced sobriety at your fingertips. If you’re thinking, “Wow, that sounds too good to be true!,” well, that’s probably because it is.
The A-CHESS (Addiction –Comprehensive Health Enhancement Support System) app is the product of a recent clinical research trial aimed at reducing the amount of drinking that recovering alcoholics engage in after they leave sobriety programs. The app has features like games to distract users when the urge to drink hits and a map system that alerts users to bars in the vicinity (anyone see a problem with that particular feature?) To make a long research trial short, one group of recovering alcoholics received traditional sobriety treatment (“group A”), while the other group received traditional treatment and the app (“group B”). According to the study, group A engaged in risky drinking three days out of the month while group B did so about only once.
There are a slew of problems with this study, the first (glaring) one being that the app’s effectiveness would be notoriously tricky to determine because users were reporting their own drinking habits and weren’t being observed constantly by researchers. Also, the app was used in conjunction with traditional sobriety treatments like twelve-step programs, so it would be difficult to quantify the role going to, say, AA would have had in a user’s sobriety versus the role the app had. Another major problem is that the app isn’t a free service, like substance abuse counseling and twelve-step programs usually are. A user would need a smartphone and a mobile data plan, which aren’t universal at this point, and would need to be able to actually access it. What if you get the urge to booze up and pull out your phone, only to discover that you don’t have service or realize that you forgot to pay this month’s phone bill? There goes your sobriety. And last, but not least, when the urge to drink strikes, a non-personalized app isn’t going to talk you back from the edge; that’s what actual, flesh-and-blood support systems like friends and family and sponsors who know you and your situation are going to do.
We’re all for finding new and innovative uses for the amazing technologies being developed every day. But when it comes to something as vital as maintaining sobriety for recovering alcoholics, it doesn’t seem like such a good idea to trust that task to a mobile app. In the words of Aldous Huxley, “you’re trying too hard.”