Smartphone Based Continuing Care for Alcohol

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University of Pennsylvania




Alcohol Abuse


Behavioral: TMC
Behavioral: ACHESS

Study type


Funder types




Details and patient eligibility


Investigators will recruit 280 alcohol dependent patients in treatment programs in the Philadelphia area to test the efficacy and cost efficiency of a smartphone based application for treating alcohol addiction (ACHESS) with telephone monitoring and counseling (TMAC). Participation in the study lasts for 18 months with research visits at baseline, 3 months, 6 months, 9 months, 12 months, and 18 months. The intervention lasts 12 months.

Full description

Continuing care is believed to be important in the effective management of patients with alcohol use disorders. New smartphone technology provides a novel way to provide personalized continuing care support. Dr. Gustafson and colleagues at the University of Wisconsin have developed an addiction version of CHESS (ACHESS), an automated smart phone system that provides a range of functions designed to directly support patients. In a recently completed NIAAA-funded continuing care study, ACHESS produced better drinking outcomes with alcoholics than treatment as usual. The Principal Investigator of the current study, Dr. Jim McKay, and his colleagues at the Center of Continuum of Care in the Addictions have also developed a telephone-based approach to continuing care, Telephone Monitoring and Counseling (TMC), which has demonstrated efficacy in two randomized trials with alcohol-dependent patients. The TMC intervention is delivered through telephone contacts between patients and counselors, and makes use of information obtained in a brief assessment at the beginning of each call to determine the content of the session and to trigger adaptive changes in level of care over time. Although both ACHESS and TMC use telephone technology, they have complementary strengths. ACHESS provides a range of automated 24/7 recovery support services, but does not include contact with a counselor. TMC, on the other hand, provides regular and sustained contact with the same counselor, but does not provide support between calls. The future of continuing care for alcohol use disorders is likely to involve both automated mobile technology and counselor contact, but little is known about how best to integrate these services. To address this question, the study will feature a 2 x 2 design [ACHESS for 12 months (yes/no) x TMC for 12 months (yes/no)]. With this design, we will determine whether adding TMC to ACHESS produces superior outcomes to those obtained with TMC or ACHESS alone. This design will also enable replication of prior findings, and will provide the first direct comparison of TMC only vs. ACHESS only. In addition, economic analyses will be completed to determine the cost and cost-effectiveness of each intervention and their combination. The participants will be randomly assigned into one of the four conditions and followed for 18 months. The follow-ups will be at 3, 6, 9, 12, and 18 months post-baseline. The subjects will be 280 patients diagnosed with alcohol abuse who are in a substance abuse treatment center in the Philadelphia area. The risks of the research are conceived to be minimal (e.g., possible embarrassment) and consist of those incurred in providing self-report data on alcohol and drug-related history and social and psychiatric problems. There are minimal medical risks associated with research participation. There will be some risk of loss of confidentiality since the name, addresses and phone numbers of three contact people will be recorded by the staff for subject tracking purposes. However, all identifiable information will remain in a locked filling cabinet only accessible by the principle investigator and study staff. No identifying information will be programmed into the phone by the counselor. Although the participant is able to program numbers into the smartphone once they receive one, the counselor will review several measures for protecting the subjects' privacy, including password and pattern locks. All subjects will receive at a minimum treatment as usual in the programs from which they will be recruited.


262 patients




18 to 75 years old


No Healthy Volunteers

Inclusion criteria

  • have a DSM-V diagnosis of current, moderate to severe alcohol use disorder
  • have completed 3 weeks of IOP
  • be 18-75 years of age
  • be able to provide the name and verified telephone number of at least two contacts to help reach participants for follow up appointments
  • functionally literate and have sufficient ability to read a smart phone
  • be willing to be randomized as part of the clinical trial

Exclusion criteria

  • have a current psychotic disorder or dementia severe enough to prevent participation in treatment
  • have an acute medical problem requiring immediate inpatient treatment
  • are participating in other forms of treatment for substance abuse, besides IOP
  • are unable to read/comprehend for informed consent

Trial design

Primary purpose




Interventional model

Parallel Assignment


None (Open label)

262 participants in 4 patient groups

Treatment as Usual
No Intervention group
Participants randomized to this condition will continue their schedules and treatments as they had been and just come in to see research staff for research visits.
Telephone Monitoring and Counseling
Experimental group
TMC - participants receive brief (20 minute) telephone counseling once weekly, then biweekly, etc for 12 months.
Behavioral: TMC
Experimental group
Participants are signed up for an addiction based smart phone application that connects them in an anonymous fashion to a social network of other people in the study who are also struggling with alcohol addiction and sober living.
Behavioral: ACHESS
Experimental group
Participants in this arm receive both interventions - the telephone counseling plus the ACHESS phone application.
Behavioral: ACHESS
Behavioral: TMC

Trial documents

Trial contacts and locations



Data sourced from

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