Can a Smart Phone App Aid in Addiction Recovery?

A man on a city street looks at his smartphone.

One of the newest wrinkles in recovery from addiction is an application called Reset. Anyone can download the app but only a person who’s working with a doctor on addiction recovery can open it and work with it. This new app is just one part of a larger movement focused on creating digital methods to manage medical treatment.

When this app goes live later this year, a doctor helping an addicted person recover can “prescribe” the use of this app for his patients at which point those patients can open the app and start to use it. At the moment, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has only approved this app for use with patients who have been addicted to cocaine or methamphetamine.

Is this app likely to actually help anyone? There are arguments on both sides.

On the positive side, this app enables a person to quickly see how many days this month they have relapsed into the use of their drug of choice—if they accurately answer the question, “Have you used today?” The app can also help a person evaluate their stressors and current triggers. Are they hungry, angry, lonely or tired? Are they in pain? These questions could help a person review their recent history and decide if they need to make improvements.

On the not-so-positive side, it’s pretty safe to say that any person who is truly addicted has been overwhelmed by their desire and need for the sensation of using their drug(s) of choice. It’s hard to picture an overwhelmed person being able to keep themselves sober and balanced by utilizing a smartphone app.

It’s easier to envision a person who was not heavily addicted and who is highly motivated to stay sober, benefiting from the use of this product by using it as a touchstone that enables them to monitor their well-being.

Addiction Recovery Means Lots of One-on-One Work

For more than fifty years, the staff of Narconon centers around the world has been working with the addicted to help them build new, sober lives. We have always found that it takes many hours of one-on-one work with our clients—who we refer to as “students” as they learn new sober living skills. We find it’s vital to support and reinforce their desire to leave addiction behind.

Small flames reflected in a man’s eyes illustrates his determination.

That desire for recovery may be very weak in their early days of rehab. There may be days they call their families and insist that they be allowed to come home. They may only have come to rehab to get their families off their backs. It’s our job to work with whatever willingness we can find in each individual and fan those tiny flames until they catch and become bigger and stronger. As their interest in their own well-being and survival grows, so does their determination to leave addiction behind.

Anyone who has worked at any drug rehab knows that it’s not easy to help a person break out of an addictive lifestyle and way of thinking and make the turn toward honesty, productivity, and gratitude. We’re going to continue to use plenty of personal attention and guidance as we help each of our students walk all the way out.

Should this App Have Been Approved by the FDA?

In the New York Times article on Reset, they note that patients who used this app were more frequently abstinent at the nine to twelve-week mark than patients who didn’t. But at the six-month mark, app users and non-app users were abstinent at about the same rate.

Will the addiction recovery program of the future utilize more smartphone apps? We don’t think anything will ever take the place of one-on-one guidance and a thorough approach to teaching sober living skills. That will always be the way we help those who come to our centers to achieve a bright, new sobriety.



For more than a decade, Karen has been researching and writing about drug trafficking, drug abuse, addiction and recovery. She has also studied and written about policy issues related to drug treatment.