The use of technology-based services for substance abuse - Sovereign Health Group
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12-10-15 Category: Drug Rehab, Treatment


Although effective, evidence-based therapies and treatments exist for people with substance use disorders, far too many people still don’t receive the treatment and help they need to overcome addiction. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reported that there were 22.5 million Americans over the age of 12 who had alcohol or illicit drug use problems in 2014, while only about 1 in 10, or 2.3 million people, received substance use treatment in the past year.

As the use of technology like email and telephones has replaced face-to-face communication, mental health professionals have begun to utilize technology-based therapies, delivered through the phone, computer and the Internet, such as e-therapy (therapy via Internet) and teletherapy (therapy via phone or video conferencing).

While the electronic delivery of treatment services is a relatively new approach in the U.S., efforts have been made by the World Health Organization (WHO), Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to provide greater access to technology-based services for traditionally underserved populations and for more people who would otherwise go without receiving care.

The Blending Initiative

The NIDA and SAMHSA collaborated on a project called the Blending Initiative in an effort to expand and improve the quality and delivery of evidence-based treatments to people with substance use disorders. Different forms of Technology Assisted Care (TAC) interventions are available for people with substance use disorders associated with gambling, alcohol, tobacco and illicit drug use.

Researchers have provided evidence for the benefits of using computer-assisted therapy programs for evidence-based techniques, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), motivational interviewing, contingency management and community reinforcement approach (CRA). Many of these techniques can be customized to address patients’ specific needs and are easily integrated into treatment. TAC interventions are also utilized by mental health professionals and treatment providers for screening, brief intervention and preventing relapse among people with substance use disorders.

Web-based psychoeducation

Therapeutic Education System (TES) is an interactive, web-based psychosocial intervention for substance use disorders. An effective treatment option for both men and women, TES includes 65 modules on topics such as:

  • Problem solving
  • Refusing drugs
  • Anger management
  • Risk reduction
  • Constructive criticism
  • Communication skills
  • Decision-making

The modules included in TES reduce substance abuse behaviors and improve individuals’ ability to manage their thoughts, emotions and psychosocial functioning. Several studies have indicated that TES is effective at helping participants achieve abstinence from alcohol and drug use, and increasing their knowledge of the risks associated with substance abuse.

Cognitive behavioral therapy training

CBT is an empirically based, effective treatment for people with substance use disorders. Computer-Based Training for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT4CBT) is a computer-based training program that teaches skills to reduce substance use. Two studies conducted by Kathleen M. Carroll, Ph.D., and her colleagues at Yale University School of Medicine provide evidence for the effectiveness of CBT4CBT for the treatment of substance dependence by increasing treatment engagement, homework completion and negative urine drug screenings, and resulting in longer periods of abstinence both during and after treatment.

Abstinence or moderation of alcohol use

Web-based applications have been designed specifically for drinking abstinence or moderation. Drinker’s Checkup is a program that helps people better understand their drinking and its effects on their health, and consider their options if they wish to change their drinking behavior. (MD) is another web-based application funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) for people who want to reduce or cut back on their drinking. Other new apps available for people who want to stop drinking include Overcoming Addictions and SMART Recovery, which help people cope with cravings; manage thoughts, feelings and behaviors; and live a balanced life.

Reid K. Hester, Ph.D., in the Research Division at Behavior Therapy Associates, and his colleagues from the University of New Mexico and Presbyterian Medical Group, conducted several studies to evaluate the efficacy of training people on how to drink in moderation and use online resources like Moderation Management to reduce their heavy drinking. The researchers found that those who participated in the moderate drinking programs abstained from drinking a greater percentage of days, had fewer problems due to drinking and drank less per drinking occasion, as measured by a reduced blood alcohol concentration (BAC).

While meeting face-to-face with patients is ideal, technology-based approaches provide options for those who lack transportation or treatment services where they live. If you or a loved one is affected by a substance use disorder, or if you would like more information about available treatment options at Sovereign Health of California, please contact our 24/7 helpline.

Written by Amanda Habermann, M.S. clinical psychology, Sovereign Health Group writer

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