Yale researcher creating new app to support those recovering from substance abuse disorder

Yale researcher creating new app to support those recovering from substance abuse disorder

A Yale researcher has received more than $100,000 to develop and test a mobile app that would use GPS to help those struggling with alcohol and opioid use during their recovery.

Adam Viera, a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in the Yale School of Public Health’s Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, received a $106,000 grant, the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award, from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism to create “e-Covery.”

The app would use GPS technology to alert individuals when they are near places associated with their alcohol or opioid use.

“The purpose of the app is to support people in the early stages of recovery,” Viera said. “We know from prior research that people who are just starting to change their substance use behavior are the ones most likely to return to old habits.”

Research indicates that between 40 and 60 percent of those who have completed substance abuse treatment will return to using within a year.

“The other thing we know is that substance use often isn’t something that happens in isolation,” said Viera. “You use with other people and you use in different locations. So, going back to those locations or interacting with those people can serve as a trigger.”

By linking GPS location with behavior, Viera hopes to create an intervention that targets people when and where they need it most – right at the point of the potential triggering event they are experiencing.

“Many of the apps that are out there are built so that the individual has to seek out support in a time of need,” said Viera. “But my thought was, what if the app could just “sense” that you were in a location that was triggering and then send a message supporting you to make you more conscious and thoughtful about where you are and what you are doing? This is important because we know that for many people, the return to use is almost a subconscious process for many people. So we want to bring it into their conscious mind.”

Viera said his research would focus on determining when messages should be sent and what they should say, rather than reminding those in recovery that they are near places or people associated with prior substance use, which may trigger a relapse rather than prevent one.