Article Media

Technology for addiction recovery: apps, tools and resources

Additional resources:

Technological advancements are giving new light to the support and recovery of those struggling with substance use disorders. From telehealthcare to virtual reality to mobile apps, there’s no lack of variety.

What’s more, some internet providers are increasingly expanding their coverage to reach more and more areas. The evolution of the internet powered by 5G will also help fill coverage gaps and provide additional options for broadband internet connectivity. All told, we’re seeing an increase in the accessibility of new technologies that can help with addiction recovery.

How researchers are implementing tech in addiction recovery

From telehealth to wellness mobile apps, researchers are implementing technological innovations in a variety of ways for addiction recovery. These technologies serve a myriad of purposes. Some assist in managing and counteracting cravings, while others help recognize and intervene in crises. Together, these innovations mean new hope for people struggling with a substance use disorder.

Telehealth and digital therapeutics

Telehealth and telemedicine provide a convenient and safe way for individuals struggling with substance use disorders to receive support. Given the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth support is critical to ensuring that the people who need help can receive it. This form of care is especially useful for rural healthcare applications during the pandemic. 

Some of the services provided through telehealth include virtual doctor visits, individual psychiatry sessions, therapy groups, case management and therapy sessions. Care topics that may be included in these services include relapse prevention, cravings management, anger management and conflict resolution. Care providers offer these services through HIPAA-compliant video conferencing software, ensuring that patients’ information is kept confidential. 

Digital therapeutics is a subset of digital healthcare. This practice focuses on behavioral and lifestyle changes, on top of the more clinical management aspects of telehealthcare. Providers can offer digital therapy services through mediums such as apps and messaging boards, which are explored in-depth further below. 

The first prescription digital therapeutic (PDT) to receive approval from the FDA is reSET, a 90-day PDT focusing on substance use disorders. This program provides cognitive behavioral therapy, as well as a contingency management system for patients 18 years or older.

Artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) is revolutionizing the addiction treatment industry. Rehab facilities incorporate the technology into their programs by utilizing its behavior-recognition capabilities. Recognizing and predicting patterns, AI is a great tool to have for crisis intervention.

The technology could help healthcare providers recognize a crisis, such as a suicide attempt or gauge the degree of mental, emotional or physical duress a patient is under. AI could also help predict relapse, by analyzing search queries or behavioral patterns.

AI also has uses in the aftercare of substance use recovery, particularly for support groups. Its pattern-recognition capabilities come in handy again, by connecting patients with other like-minded individuals. This is useful for creating recovery groups that have more in common, such as similar ages or experiences.

Neurofeedback technology

Neurofeedback, also called Neurotherapy or EEG biofeedback is a type of biofeedback that teaches patients how to self-regulate their brain functions. Providing real-time feedback from brain activity, it is a useful tool for operant conditioning. Healthcare providers can use this technology in addiction treatment to help counteract cravings.

One UCLA study showed that using EEG biofeedback in addition to the 12-Step program improved participants' rates of abstinence. This technology, in this case, helped participants accept the change that comes with treatment, in addition to teaching their brains how to become more stable.

Virtual reality

Virtual reality is another technology with the potential to improve the treatment of substance use disorders. One study is using virtual reality to expose people in recovery to their triggers in a safe, controlled environment. The study seeks to teach coping skills to people who have a dependency on substances or behaviors, such as alcohol, nicotine or food.

Mobile apps

Another one of technology’s newer roles in addiction recovery comes in the form of self-help mobile tech and digital apps. There are a variety of addiction recovery apps available that require just a smartphone, data plan and internet connection. Apps range from sobriety trackers and clocks to motivational speakers and inspirational messages. Some apps cater specifically to young adults with substance use disorders.

Benefits of technology for addiction recovery

The biggest barriers to addiction treatment include geographic location, financial cost, stigma and co-occurring disorder treatment availability. Technology has the potential to help those with substance use disorders overcome these barriers.

Through self-help apps, forums or support groups, individuals seeking help can do so when they need to and for whatever reasons. These services afford them privacy and are often offered at a low to zero cost. This is only the start of the benefits behind technology for addiction recovery.

Increases accessibility and equitableness

Geographic location, as mentioned above, can pose a major challenge to individuals going through the recovery process. One study found that there are both structural and quality divisions between rural and urban treatment centers for substance use disorders. For people living in rural areas, it is much harder to find a treatment center, especially a quality one.

Treatment centers and other institutions that provide digital access to these same sorts of services can reverse these inequities. From online support groups to telemedicine, there are many aspects of technology that aid in the accessibility and equitableness of addiction recovery services.

Provides a sense of privacy

Unlike in-person support groups, sponsor meetings or other forms of addiction recovery help, online services provide a sense of privacy to individuals seeking treatment. The stigma surrounding addiction and addiction recovery is vast and can be deeply damaging. When patients do not get the services they need throughout the rehabilitation process because of stigma, it may mean the difference between a successful or a failed recovery.

The privacy afforded to individuals through online services and apps may make them feel more comfortable, open to discussion and willing to get help. At best, this could in turn help decrease rates of relapse.

Mitigates time barriers

Online services mitigate time barriers by allowing 24/7 availability to people from all time zones and regions. People who may especially benefit from this newfound availability include those who feel most at-risk at night, those who live in remote areas or those who live in areas where there’s a greater stigma around addiction.

Drawbacks of technology for addiction recovery

Technology can only increase accessibility and equitableness if the people who need these services have access to them in the first place. Most of the drawbacks surrounding technology for addiction recovery services stems right back to these same disparities. If a person doesn’t have access to a reliable internet connection, phone or data plan, utilizing technology’s advancement in the recovery process is off the table.

Income, race and ethnicity and geographic location are all contributors to this divide. These are discussed below.

Requires a stable internet connection

Although some digital gaps have narrowed as rural Americans received greater and greater access to the tech over the past decade, they are still less likely to have a stable internet connection than their urban and suburban counterparts.

In a 2018 Pew Research study, 24% of rural Americans claimed that access to high-speed internet is a “major problem.” These concerns are shared by rural residents of different socioeconomic backgrounds, including class and education.

Lack of connectivity can make access to addiction recovery services challenging — and not just for services offered online. Without a reliable internet connection, it may be difficult for people seeking help to find support groups, meetings and sponsors, whether online or in-person. Of course, lack of connectivity also may prevent their ability to use self-help mobile tech and download addiction recovery apps.

Requires an internet-connected device

Just as online addiction recovery services require a stable internet connection, they also require an internet-connected device. This may be a smartphone, a laptop or a tablet. The cost of these devices can add up, especially for families.

Access to an internet-connected device is not a given in an American household, as mentioned in the Pew Research study above. Consistent access to a personal device may be even more difficult for some individuals.


Utilizing technology for addiction recovery entails a few different costs. First, participants need a reliable internet connection. Then they need an internet-connected device. If they are using a mobile phone, they also must have a data plan. All of these together add up. For some, this may be a significant cost. Access to affordable, quality internet is a problem in the U.S. — and this problem can extend to people in recovery.

Additional resources

Below are additional resources for those struggling with substance use disorders: