To grasp the scale of addiction in the United States, consider these statistics: excluding tobacco, over 20 million Americans over the age of 12 have an addiction. Over 16m people suffer from alcoholism, and over a third of the country is obese. Addiction-related crime, lost productivity and healthcare costs the American economy around $800bn every year.
The effectiveness of twelve-step programs and costly rehab centers has rightly been called into question in recent years, opening up markets for a host of tech startups to try stemming the tide of addiction. With the advent of smartphone ubiquity, it has never been easier to kickstart a fight against addiction – whatever the substance. Here are five pocket-sized solutions that just might help beat the cravings.
1. Pear reSET
Prescription digital therapeutics (PDT) firm Pear, from Boston, has created the first mobile app approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). reSET guides users through a 12-week course of lessons in recovery, reading content and completing quizzes to clue themselves up on their addiction.
Tests back up the app’s effectiveness: a September 2017 clinical trial found that reSET increased abstinence by over 20%, in a group of 399 patients. This April Sandoz and Pear, the latter of which is collaborating with pharma giant Novartis, signed an agreement to develop and commercialize reSET and other PDT solutions.
2. Sober Grid
One of the best-rated apps for battling alcoholism, Sober Grid, founded in Boston in 2014, offers a personalized, easy-to-access resource to track and share your drink-free progress with others. The platform has over 135,000 users and features round-the-clock recovery coaching, so those trying to beat the bottle avoid the all-consuming loneliness that going sober can often elicit.
The National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health have both been motivated to back Sober Grid, thanks largely to its glowing user reviews. The app includes “geosocial networking”: the ability to find nearby users. It also offers users the chance to air their thoughts via a newsfeed. It’s “Facebook for sober people,” one reviewer has said.
3. Livestrong MyQuit Coach
Approved by a host of smoking cessation experts, Livestrong’s iOS or Android app gives users the chance to cut out cigarettes altogether, or gradually lower their usage. Like Sober Grid the platform’s biggest strength is its connectivity: users can link Facebook, Twitter and livestrong.com to access help and support from thousands of people online, aiding the quitting process.
MyQuit offers goal-based achievements and notifications to ensure you remain on track, and the ability to keep score of just how much money you’re saving by avoiding those trips to the local convenience store.
4. Squirrel Recovery
Heroin addiction is an American epidemic, exacerbated by the exploding popularity of prescription opioids. In 2016 Brandi Spaulding, an intern at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center, developed Squirrel Recovery, an app whose aim is to reduce heroin abuse, having seen the drug rip through her hometown of Marion, Ohio.
Like other addiction apps, Squirrel aims to prevent loneliness and isolation, recognizing that the support of family, friends and fellow addiction sufferers is key to avoiding relapses. Users tap in the names and details of ten people who can help them in times of need. The app then tracks the times, moods and locations in which the user is most likely to relapse, and sends notifications to those ten.
Among the fastest-growing of all addictions? The smartphone itself. Siempo, an Oakland, California-based company, thinks it has the answer. Rather than become a slave to the notifications, bells and whistles that existing apps employ to keep you hooked on their platforms, Siempo helps users bunch all of them into singularly-timed groups.
The app’s home screen, which can be implemented instead of the phone’s existing layout, is simpler and less demanding, grouping apps by activity so users are less inclined to keep checking in. That reduces addiction that is literally built into social media and other formats, which has become a key issue as former execs form opposing groups like the Center for Humane Technology.