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Study: Sobriety app aids recovery

– A smartphone app for recovering alcoholics that includes a panic button and sounds an alert when they get too close to taverns helped keep some on the wagon, researchers who developed the tool found.

The sober app studied joins a host of others that serve as electronic shoulder angels, featuring a variety of options for trying to prevent alcoholics and drug addicts from relapsing.

Adults released from in-patient alcoholism treatment centers who got free sober smartphones reported fewer drinking days and more overall abstinence than those who got the usual follow-up support.

The results were based on patients’ self-reporting on whether they resumed drinking, a potential limitation.

Mark Wiitala, 32, took part in the study and says the app helped save his life. He said the most helpful feature allowed him to connect to a network of peers who’d gone through the same recovery program. The app made them immediately accessible for an encouraging text or phone call when he needed an emotional boost.

“It’s an absolutely amazing tool,” said Wiitala, of Middlesex County, Mass. He said he’s continued to use it even though the study ended.

The study was published online Wednesday in JAMA Psychiatry.

The app includes a feature asking periodic questions by text or voice mail about how patients are doing. If enough answers seem worrisome, the system automatically notifies a counselor who can then offer help.

The results for smartphone users were comparable to what has been seen with standard follow-up counseling or anti-addiction medication, said Daniel Falk, a scientist-administrator at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, which helped pay for the study.

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