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 (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, 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 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.
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.