Nowadays most of us use our smartphones for practically everything, so why should sobriety be any exception? More mobile apps are being developed all the time to address the specific needs of those in recovery, including clever features that make it easier to find support, short-circuit triggers and relapse and connect with others who understand where you are.
Sobriety apps are part of the much bigger trend of mobile heath apps. “These tools are being adopted almost as quickly as they can be developed,” says a 2014 report by the Food and Drug Administration, which notes that half a billion smartphone users worldwide are expected to use a health care application by this year. By 2018, half of the more than 3.4 billion smartphone and tablet users will have downloaded mobile health applications.
The arena of addiction recovery is particularly ripe for development. “The number of recovery apps is growing very quickly. People have their cellphones with them all the time and these recovery apps are great,” says Brad Lander, PhD, clinical director of addiction psychiatry at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center, who recently helped develop an Android recovery app called Squirrel Recovery; Addiction (featured below), with doctoral intern Brandi Spaulding. Dr. Lander does caution, though, that these apps shouldn’t be used in a vacuum: “They should supplement other activities, such as one-on-one treatment.” Here’s a look at six popular entries — some new, some that have been around a while — among recovery/sobriety apps:
What it does: Social meets recovery in this brand-new app (it launched on July 9) that’s already garnered some 25,000 downloads. Using Sober Grid you can easily find, chat with and meet up with other people in recovery. The app uses your phone’s GPS capabilities to allow you to see anyone near you who also uses the app while still remaining anonymous if you prefer. Beau Mann, one of Sober Grid’s founders, who is himself in recovery, says he got the idea when he was at the Sundance Film Festival and wanted to meet other people in recovery. “We anticipate being at a million downloads by the end of the year,” says Mann. Other features include “a newsfeed where people share quotes, updates and pictures,” Mann adds. “And we have a portal for treatment program alumnae as well.” A “Burning Desire” feature puts a red box around your profile to indicate you’re at risk for drinking/using, and a blue box signals that you’re looking for a ride to a 12-step meeting.
What real reviewers say: Pros: “The newsfeed is so positive. I read a few messages when I wake up and before I go to sleep.” “I love the notion of being able to reach out to sober people whenever and wherever.” Cons: “Be prepared for the creeps.”
What it does: If you want to dial back your compulsion to use the very platform that apps come on – smartphones and tablets – this app will help keep your device from constantly distracting you. Simply put, Flipd is a “productivity tool” that keeps you off your phone while allowing you to stay connected. It can also remotely lock your kids out of their phones to help them stay focused. The app’s productivity timer ensures uninterrupted focus, delivering auto-response SMS texts to let others know you’re busy (emergency calling is still permitted). You can also track your accumulated time spent Flipd-off to motivate productivity.
What real reviewers say: Pros: “I’m glad you’re trying to develop an app to address [the] ever-increasing problem of people not being present.” “This will make my world sane again.” Cons: “Great idea. But it’s using my battery when I’m not even using the app!” “I’m still a little concerned that there’s no way to stop the app after the 1 minute abort time.”
Free for Android
What it does: This app was developed at Ohio State by Dr. Lander and doctoral student Brandi Spaulding. It allows you to set up a support circle with other people in recovery from substance addictions (its focus). “Your circle can include 10 people,” explains Lander. “At your trigger times, questions pop up about your mood state.” The people in your circle know from your answers how you are doing and can respond accordingly to offer support and encouragement when you need it most. “There is also a panic button for immediate help from your circle,” Lander adds. The app tracks the number of days of your sobriety and rewards you with “coins” as you rack up more sober days.
What real reviewers say: Pros: “Good way to meet and help other addicts.” “Great recovery app.” Cons: “It is disheartening to see more recovery material that favors the 12-step approach at the expense of other pathways to recovery.”
Free for Android; in development for iTunes
What it does: This app tracks the progress you’ve made by quitting anything, from coffee and junk food to heroin and meth. It tracks the days and hours since you stopped and also how much money you’ve saved. There’s no limit to the number of bad habits or addictions you can track and, thankfully, no ads or tiresome prompts to deal with.
What real reviewers say: Pros: “Simple but amazing.” “I have used this app and it motivates me to keep moving ahead with my goals.” Cons: “I thought the app would be better if it could show how many calories I have cut down since I started trying to lose weight.”
Free for iTunes (supported by Apple Watch)
What it does: This app has been around for a few years, but earlier in 2015 it got a big update that gave it a lot more punch. recoveryBox works using lights (green, yellow and red) that keep you accountable in your recovery. You log what you do every day and are greeted with a green light for “Way to go!”activities that support your recovery; a yellow light for “Warning light events”; or a red light for “Acting out” behavior. Whatever you enter is stored and can be emailed to a spouse, sponsor or another accountability partner. recoveryBox also tracks triggers over time, can log multiple addictions/issues and is easy to set up and customize with treatment goals and motivators to keep you on track.
What real reviewers say: Pros: “[The current] version is awesome with the calendar that shows my good and bad habits.” “I appreciate that there is constant improvement on an already powerful and helpful app.” Cons: “Doesn’t help if you don’t have an accountability partner other than your wife.”
$1.99; iTunes only
What it does: SoberTool was developed by a Harvard-educated licensed chemical dependency and certified alcoholism and drug counselor who has been sober for 26 years. It’s aimed at recovering alcoholics and addicts and anyone who wants to stay sober or free from a bad habit. The app offers encouragement with various prompts as well as an reward system. Prompts such as “Are you experiencing bad feelings?” and “Do you need help making a decision?” help keep you motivated and focused. A search function allows users to find answers to emotions and situations that threaten sobriety, like anger, sadness, frustration and stress.
What real reviewers say: Pros: “As a future counselor I see how this app can help people avoid relapse.” “This app is very motivating and has helped me keep track of how many days I have actually been sober… As a recovering alcoholic my math skills and thinking clarity has not yet come back.” Cons: “Too much reading.” “There’s not much more to this than what you could easily find in online readings but the stuff that’s on the app is always good to hear.”