Using Technology to Support Recovery
Ours truly is the technological age and you don’t have to be a Millennial or Generation Z’’er to find your days filled with social media or your life embedded in your smartphone. However, your mobile device can be far more than a convenient tool for entertainment, information, or communication. If you are one of the more than 20 million adults in the US who are facing addiction, your mobile device can be a powerful weapon in your fight for recovery (1).
Harnessing the Power of Technology
Addiction recovery is a serious thing. The work you do to get sober will probably be the most important of your life. For that reason, it might seem difficult or impossible to believe that the technologies that brought you cat videos, happy face emojis, and scorching memes are the same ones that can help you to regain your life and your health. A closer look, though, reveals precisely why technology can be such an immense aid in this most critical endeavor of your life.
One of the most destructive aspects of addiction is how lonely and isolating it can be. Dependency takes us away not only from ourselves but also from the people we love. It systematically robs us of the healthy connections that humans need to survive and thrive. And if we’re not replacing those crucial ties with unhealthy and dysfunctional relationships, we’re retreating into ourselves, withdrawing in order to be alone with the substance on which we have come to depend.
Indeed, there is vast and growing evidence that the quality of your personal relationships plays a significant role not only in the development and progression of substance use disorder (SUD) but also in the success of your recovery. And that’s where “recovery apps” can be particularly beneficial in helping you to get–and stay–sober. Research increasingly shows that the ability to connect with one’s peers, sponsors, and care providers on-demand, day or night, whenever and wherever they may be needed, is highly effective in preventing relapse, promoting abstinence, and reducing risky substance-related behaviors, such as binge drinking (2, 3, 4, 5, 6).
In addition, such constant access to support has proven especially important in the era of COVID-19, where the anxiety engendered by the virus has combined with the detrimental effects of social isolation to create a perfect storm for the worsening of substance use disorders and the emergence of new dependencies. The research shows that mobile technologies, from social media-based recovery platforms to text messaging apps have proven invaluable, particularly in the face of lockdowns, which may have limited patients’ access to face-to-face support groups or clinical care (7).
A Rehab in Your Pocket
It’s not only the immense possibility for connecting with your support network that makes today’s technology so beneficial in the recovery process. Increasingly, telemedicine and mobile health tools are being used by addiction medicine experts, recovery specialists, and primary care providers to provide holistic, evidence-based, on-demand care for those in recovery (8, 9, 10).
Not only can mHealth technologies enable care teams to monitor patients in recovery through substance withdrawal and detoxification, but these tools can also alert patients and their support networks to potential risk factors, such as changes in sleeping or eating patterns, that may signal an increased potential for relapse. This is especially important when the disorder is associated with other comorbidities, such as depressive, anxiety, or trauma disorders.
SUD and mental health disorders frequently go hand-in-hand, with the dependency often emerging through the patients’ attempt to self-medicate to cope with frequently debilitating sadness, stress, or fear (11, 12, 13, 14). However, mobile apps are increasingly being used to address the symptoms and effects of these challenges.
A host of proven apps are available at little or no cost to guide users in the development of healthful behaviors and healing thought patterns, including meditation and mindfulness, apps that support users in cultivating healthy sleeping, eating, and exercise patterns, and even apps that provide training in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) (15, 16. 17).
Another significant benefit of today’s recovery technologies is simply the power that it affords the user in understanding, directing, and documenting their own recovery. All too often, those who face addiction do so shrouded in secrecy and silence. But the best recovery apps provide you with both the tools and the training to begin to develop the habits and communication skills you need on your path from dependency to recovery.
For example, many recovery apps include journaling capabilities that will allow you to document your experiences, express your emotions, and learn to identify your triggers. It is also not uncommon for these apps to include daily goal-setting functions to empower you to take charge in your recovery, even as you are reminded, day-by-day, of why your recovery matters, of what it means to you, your loved ones, and the sober life you seek to build with them (18, 19, 20).
In addition to the empowerment that comes from using these tools, these apps empower you to become an active force, not a passive one, in your fight for sobriety. With these technologies, you have a whole world of information literally at your fingertips. And the best apps will help you cut through all the noise that so often characterizes the Wild West of the World Wide Web.
After all, there’s a lot of misinformation out there, but a good technology app will curate the best and most reliable content, ensuring that you receive only the newest, most reliable, relevant information for your specific needs. Armed with such knowledge, you have the power to make informed decisions about your recovery, choosing the path to sobriety that works best for you, the people you love, and the future you want and deserve.
Choosing the Right Tools
As important as mobile technologies can be in addiction recovery, not all tools are created equally. That’s why it’s important to choose wisely and carefully when selecting a recovery app. Pay attention to who the app’s sponsors and creators are and what kind of data they use as the basis for their app. The best apps are those created by recognized authorities in addiction and recovery medicine, whose tools will be designed according to evidence-based best practices. We’ve identified some of the best and recommend these four:
- I am Sober: I am Sober is a comprehensive sobriety tracker and social media tool. It allows users to track the number of days in sobriety, monitor important milestones, and establish and keep track of short-term and long-range goals. In addition, users can follow the Withdrawal Timeline to identify what symptoms may be expected at each stage of recovery and to add their own experiences to this timeline. Users are also invited and encouraged to post pictures and use journaling tools to help sustain motivation and identify craving triggers. The app features a Daily Pledge tool to help renew the users’ commitment to their sobriety and encourage the frequent use of the app as a tool to support that recovery. It also enables users to connect with others at all stages of recovery, sharing stories, and receiving support from those further along in their recovery. The app is available in free and paid (enhanced) versions and can be downloaded for iOS and Android.
- Recovery Box: Recovery Box is a self-described “AA 12 Step Toolkit” for those recovering from Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD). The app is based on the Alcoholics Anonymous recovery regime and includes readings from the AA “Big Book.” It includes daily prayers and the capability to chat instantly with sponsors and sponsees. It’s designed specifically to enable users to work steps 4, 8, 9, 10, and 11 using the app’s features, though inventories of readings and prayers can also be used when working the other steps. Journaling tools, gratitude lists, and hourly “consciousness” reminders are also included. You can track your recovery, charting milestones and gathering important statistics, from money saved to calories reduced for every day of alcohol abstinence. This app is available in free and enhanced subscriber options. It can be downloaded for iOS and Android.
- Recovery Elevator: Recovery Elevator is a sobriety tracker for those recovering from AUD. The app is supplemented with a podcast series that addresses various aspects of recovery, from stigmatization to meditation and mindfulness. In addition, the app includes private groups and other Facebook-based community forums to allow those in recovery to connect with others who have walked the same path. A particularly significant feature of the app is Cafe RE, which app creators describe as an “accountability program” designed both to motivate users and require them to take responsibility for their recovery by working with an assigned “accountability partner.” Access to this feature does require a premium subscription. Like the other apps, Recovery Elevator includes a sobriety calculator providing informative and inspiring statistics for each stage of the recovery timeline. Recovery Elevator also provides online resources, from curated information on recovery to videos and live online events. The app is available through tiered subscription plans ranging from $1 to $24 per month and can be downloaded for iOS and Android.
- Refuge Recovery: Refuge Recovery uses Buddhist teachings and philosophies to support those in recovery. It includes a podcast series, online videos, and information guides, as well as online and in-person events. Audio recordings are available for download and can be used to guide listeners in focused meditation on a range of topics, from forgiveness to gratitude to compassion. Users can connect with others in recovery through online and face-to-face meetings, as well as retreats and seminars. In addition to free resources available online through Refuge’s website, you can subscribe for free to the Refuge podcast on iOS or Android.
Recovery is never easy, but today’s technologies can help light the path and equip you with a greater selection and better tools than ever before. From connecting you with addiction specialists to enabling you to build supportive communities with others on the same journey, recovery apps and related technologies can help you become more empowered, more informed, and more motivated at each stage of your recovery. And, at Bayshore, as a part of our commitment to whole-person, individualized, and long-term care, we can work with you to develop a strategy for incorporating recovery technology into your aftercare regime. Reach out to us today to discuss how we can help you!