Technology and Substance Misuse Prevention
For many who experience drug or alcohol related difficulties the first port of call will often be Google or another search engine to find a diagnosis or a directory of services. Access to the internet has transformed the ways in which we live our lives, particularly in terms of our relationship to health, wellbeing and lifestyle. The movement towards preventative health models is likely to further strengthen this relationship with even Facebook looking to explore its role within healthcare.
There are now a proliferation of online tools and resources that enable healthcare providers to adopt a preventative approach with examples ranging from online brief interventions to websites offering harm reduction advice. Facilitating behaviour change is often the prime goal of such interventions but these resources have multiple fringe benefits, including data analysis that help identify trends and opportunities for public health initiatives.
When big data is captured such as that of the Global Drug Survey (www.globaldrugsurvey.com) and other areas of work undertaken by Dr. Adam Winstock (Kings College London) some interesting analytical work presents itself. Understanding attitudes and behaviours related to substance use can provide an informed basis for both practice and policy.
For those involved in the treatment system technology can and does make a massive difference. There is a growing evidence base looking at the impact of different technologies at various stages of substance misuse, dependence, addiction and recovery. The term Technology-Enhanced Recovery can be defined as ‘the process of supporting a person’s remission from addiction through interventions and resources that are delivered through digital platforms and other technology-based innovations’. The growth of technology-enhanced recovery is seen across services, ranging from Computer Assisted therapy (CAT) to newer developments such as avatar therapy.
Computer Assisted Therapy (CAT)
The impact of Computer Assisted Therapy (CAT) within mental health has been so significant that it is now NICE recommended for the treatment of anxiety and depression. And as frequently witnessed where the mental health field leads the substance misuse sector follows. The CAT approach has a natural fit within the treatment of substance misuse as it enables practitioners to structure keyworking sessions, use the software and computer screen as a spring board for discussion.
The approach develops therapeutic alliance in exactly the same way as if paper based tools were used. This is exemplified by the work of Professor Kathleen Carroll at Yale University with the programme CBT4CBT. The team at Breaking Free Group has seen a similar impact with UK service providers adopting Breaking Free Online – but what has been of particular interest is the impact for peer mentoring services, where mentors combine life experience with the content of the online treatment programme creating a key working session where both stakeholders strengthen their resilience and progress their recovery.
Digital Inclusion and Recovery
Having access to a mobile phone or a computer can really open up someone’s world. A research study by Professor Joanne Neale (Kings College London) and Dr Caral Brown Stevenson (Oxford Brookes University) investigated 30 homeless service users who engaged with Breaking Free Online. The impact of the digital interventions went way beyond the clinical outcomes achieved, with social implications highlighted such as one individual re-engaging with his family after learning to use computers and in particular Facebook.
Being able to reach many people by a simple click of a mouse can extend a support network exponentially, whether accessing online mutual aid groups such as SMART Recovery, fellowship meetings, or other communities, the world is available from the seat of your armchair. The ability to blog about recovery experiences can help with reflection of a personal journey and also inspire others to flourish, and accessing communities such as In2Recovery (www.in2recovery.org.uk) can genuinely open up a global support network – a potential lifesaver for overcoming the loneliness and isolation addiction brings with it.
This blog is part one of a two-parter.
Glyn Davies is Service Development Director at Breaking Free. He has been with the organisation since its inception in 2010 and has played an instrumental role in the development of the Breaking Free Online and Breaking Free Pillars of Recovery programmes. He has an academic background in criminology and criminal justice, and extensive experience of both the commissioning and delivery of substance misuse and criminal justice services.