Recovery from drug and alcohol addiction is a process. Just because someone stops using does not mean he or she is recovered. Many people who undergo treatment end up relapsing because they do not have continuing care for their addiction. Recently, text messages have been introduced as a viable tool for continuing care. Short message servicing (SMS) is a relatively new technique in intervention programs, and has begun to emerge in maintenance programs as well. This approach involves sending specific messages to clients throughout their recovery to encourage and motivate them to continue in their new, healthier behaviors.
Although this method has been shown to be effective in its infancy, few researchers have stopped to ask clients what messages they think would be most effective in helping them stay clean. To address this pressing question, Frederick Muench of the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University recently surveyed 50 people who were part of an outpatient addiction program. He asked them what messages would promote behavior change and be most valuable to them throughout their recovery. Muench found that nearly all of the participants supported this type of continuing care. Even though they may have changed carriers or cell phone numbers, most of the participants, even those who were indigent, had smartphones capable of receiving text messages.
Not surprisingly, the participants were in agreement about the types of messages they wanted to receive. They felt that recognition of milestones, such as number of days clean, would be helpful. Additionally, of the participants, 96% wanted a friend to be notified and 78% wanted a therapist notified if they felt they were going to relapse. Muench believes that this finding emphasizes the influence of social networking and underscores its importance in the recovery process. The participants also expressed interest in crisis messaging and were eager to have access to that type of outreach. The findings of this study gauged only individuals’ preferences for SMS, and did not assess the efficacy of such an approach. That task is reserved for future research. “Overall, results highlight the promise of using mobile interventions for addiction care and underscore the need for empirically tested models for this new medium,” Muench said.
Muench, F., Weiss, R. A., Kuerbis, A., Morgenstern, J. (2012). Developing a theory driven text messaging intervention for addiction care with user driven content. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029963
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