Technology in Addiction Recovery

April 19, 2022

7 mins

Dane O’Leary

ABSTRACT

7 mins Technology is an ever-present part of our lives, but we don’t usually think about technology in the context of recovery. As it turns out, there are a number of promising technologies being employed for addiction recovery as well as numerous emerging technologies that are promising.

Recovering from addiction is a journey that requires many different tools, including support systems, clinical care, twelve-step programs, and more. However, it’s becoming increasingly clear that technology can offer a number of unique ways in which to help with the addiction recovery process. Between the new and emerging technologies that are used for various types of addiction and recovery, we seem to be on the cusp of a future in which technology plays a major role in addiction recovery. 

With this in mind, let’s take a look at some of the current and up-and-coming technologies that are proving to be valuable (or potentially valuable) for addiction treatment and recovery.

Online Counseling

Therapy continues to be among the top resources for helping individuals with substance and behavioral addictions.

In some ways, online therapy and counseling take the therapy experience to the next level by making counseling more accessible and convenient while leveraging many of the same techniques–cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and motivational interviewing are two standard therapeutic techniques often used in online counseling environments–as conventional counseling 

Notably, access to the internet and increased portability of technology have been instrumental to advances in online counseling structures.

Structures

Online counseling continues to evolve as technologies advance and develop. Notably, access to the internet and increased portability of technology have been instrumental to advances in online counseling structures. 

Therapist-led online therapy

With therapist-led online therapy, the therapist uses emails, chats, and video calls to connect with the client. The session has a similar feeling to an in-person therapy session. 

Robotic simulation of therapist

Robotic text therapy has been around for a while. This method uses conversation rules, simple vocabulary, and pattern matching to provide dialogue-based therapy with patients. More recently, we’ve seen voice communication included as part of the robotic therapy simulation.

Computer-assisted therapy

With computer-assisted therapy, the client follows an online curriculum that takes him or her through a treatment process. There is minimal interaction with a licensed therapist; instead, there are instructional videos, computer assessments, tutorials, and homework assignments to guide the therapy that is overseen by the therapist. 

Web-assisted therapy

Web-assisted therapy refers to the use of a website or mobile app to guide the client through activities and sessions. Every aspect of the therapy is done online in a mobile environment. No programs do download; just an internet connection. 

Benefits of Online Counseling

Although it may not work for everyone, there are undeniable benefits to utilizing online counseling for recovery. For instance, online counseling options allow for greater privacy since you can engage in therapy without leaving the comfort of home.

Additionally, online counseling makes counseling services more accessible geographically and financially. 

Drawbacks of Online Counseling

There can be a disconnect with online counseling since you’re not meeting with a therapist in person. Another consideration would be technical issues that can also hinder the user experience or interrupt your healing process.  

Using a smartwatch for addiction treatment

Wearable Devices

Wearable and fitness-tracking devices, such as the Apple Watch, have become quite popular. As a result, we’ve seen some of these devices being adapted for more therapeutic purposes. Additionally, new wearable technologies are entering the marketplace, some of which have been designed explicitly for therapeutic uses. 

Electrical Impulses for Opioid Addiction 

The FDA has approved wearable devices that aid opioid withdrawal by emitting electrical impulses to alleviate symptoms associated with withdrawal. These devices, which are usually placed around the ear, have been scientifically shown to promote the production of endogenous endorphins in the brain. 

For someone with opioid addiction, these electrical impulse devices can help them manage their withdrawal symptoms when getting off opioids. In other words, they help mitigate one of the largest barriers to sobriety and could result in a significant reduction in relapse rates in early recovery. 

So far, DyAnsys and Spark Biomedical have created FDA-approved wearable electronic impulse devices to assist with opioid addiction. These devices are an ideal showcase of the potential to use new and existing technologies in ways that aid the recovery process. Moreover, the portability of these devices could increase access to proven treatment methods. 

RFID Technology Chips

RFID technology chips have traditionally been used to track location. As such, there are currently initiatives to use RFID chips at treatment centers to track patients. Although this may feel extreme, the idea is that this could promote accountability and ensure that patients aren’t exposed to people or places that may trigger a relapse. 

Sleep Tracking 

Tracking one’s sleep patterns is valuable not just for recovery but for overall health and wellness. However, poor sleep habits are particularly important during recovery because individuals who are sleep-deprived generally don’t receive the full benefits of treatment. The use of a sleep tracking device can provide valuable insight into an individual’s sleep patterns while also shedding light on some ways in which he or she can achieve better and more restful sleep. 

Stress Tracking

Stress tracking devices monitor one’s biofeedback. This technology is just beginning to be used for addiction recovery, so its potential has yet to be fully realized. Tracking biofeedback and stress levels can be a great way to monitor an individual for signs of relapse.  

Additionally, stress tracking devices have the potential to be used to track behavior. As we gain a better understanding of biofeedback technology, we may reach a point where we’re able to predict behavior and provide support when it’s most needed. 

Although there are already a number of promising applications, the use of wearable technology for addiction recovery is just getting started.

Apps

With mobile devices being so commonplace, there are apps available for nearly any function imaginable. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that recovery technology and methodology have been applied to the app development world, resulting in a number of unique apps that offer value at different stages of the recovery process. 

Social Media Platform

Sober Grid offers an example of one particular type of recovery-oriented app, which is a social media specifically for recovering addicts. This type of app gives users a forum through which to connect with others going through similar situations. In effect, users can build their own virtual support groups comprised of peers who really understand the day-to-day experience of being in recovery. Apps like Sober Grid become even more valuable when you consider that having a support network is crucial to a successful recovery. 

Guides

Guide apps aim to make certain resources more accessible at times of need. An example of a guide app that’s tailored to recovery would be the Alcoholic Anonymous Big Book app. Rather than having to keep an unwieldy book on hand, the app gives users the ability to access the book’s information anytime, anywhere. The app has the added benefit of making the book’s information easily searchable.

Recovery Health Apps

Similar to apps that track fitness or meals, there are health recovery apps with which to track cravings and triggers. To create additional value, these apps often incorporate other resources such as motivational quotes, exercises, and health tips. 

VR Technology 

We often associate virtual reality technology with gaming or other forms of recreation, but VR has really begun to take hold in the therapist’s office. In fact, there are a few different ways in which VR technology is being used for counseling and substance abuse treatment. 

Face-to-Face Therapy Sessions

Therapy is essential to recovery as it can improve your mental health and guide you toward stable sobriety. With virtual reality, you can meet with a therapist face-to-face, even when you are miles apart. Without geographical restrictions, patients can experience the same benefits of in-person sessions by meeting with a counselor who understands their needs.

As we continue to refine VR technology, we will undoubtedly unlock new ways to meet the needs of future patients and treat a broader range of addiction and mental health issues.

Similarly, VR allows patients to broaden their search for a counselor, allowing them to choose the therapist who can best help them rather than being limited to local therapists. 

Cue Behavior

Understanding what triggers addictive behavior is an important part of addiction recovery. For example: Are you triggered by a particular person or scenario? 

With virtual reality, you can face your cue behaviors and develop strategies to deal with cues that might otherwise have led you to relapse. In a sense, you might look at VR as facilitating a form of exposure therapy as it helps you to create an action plan for when you face a cue situation in real life. When used for this purpose, virtual reality may increase your chances of enjoying a long-term recovery. 

Environmental Triggers

Not unlike cues, environmental triggers refer to situations in which an environment puts you at increased risk of relapse. With VR technology, one can be placed in specific environments that play on multisensory clues, giving the individual the opportunity to learn to deal with and even overcome environmental triggers and any associated cravings. 

VR exposure to environmental triggers provides data points with which to better understand how context influences behavior. As a result, participants are given the opportunity to learn more about risk factors for relapse while also developing actionable strategies for relapse prevention. 

Future Applications

We are standing at the precipice when it comes to using virtual reality in addiction recovery. Among the many other ways in which future iterations of the technology could be used, we could see simulations designed to help people deal with more complex mental and emotional issues. 

As we continue to refine VR technology, we will undoubtedly unlock new ways to meet the needs of future patients and treat a broader range of addiction and mental health issues.

By now, you’ve surely seen that technology can offer many different techniques and tools to aid the addiction recovery process, from minimizing symptoms of opioid withdrawal to providing coping tools to deal with environmental triggers. In addition to enhancing existing treatments, technology will pave the way to making sobriety more accessible. 

Of course, technology is just one of many tools used for recovery. At Never Alone Recovery, we offer support services to help you connect with the best drug rehabs and build the right team to assist with your recovery journey.


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