triggers and temptations

Triggers and temptations. They're two of the most formidable foes to someone in recovery. In A.A. and N.A. meeting rooms, they're known as the "people, places and things" which drove you're addiction to alcohol and/or drugs. They're also what can drive an alcoholic and/or addict to relapse. Now, however, there's an app for that.

Well, there's an app for that up in Boston and Framingham, MA anyway. And with any luck, there'll soon be an app for that for the rest of the country as well.

The app's called Hey,Charlie. And its aim is to help people avoid the environmental triggers and temptations that might threaten their recovery from addiction.

Conceived at a 2016 Massachusetts Institute of Technology health hackathon and named for a friend of co-founder Emily Lindemer, Hey,Charlie hopes to stop an opioid addict in his or her tracks before they go off the rails. The goal is to eventually reroute them toward a better path as well.

Say a substance abuser is a neighborhood known for drug activity. Hey,Charlie will ask 'Are you sure you want to be on this street?' Eventually, the app will suggest an alternate route. Perhaps one that even comes with perks.

The app similarly behaves with a user's contacts. That is, if you're calling or texting someone on your contact list who springs from your days of ripping and running. 'Hold on, are you sure you want to call John Smith right now?' the app will ask. That warning should be enough to give you pause.

“People and places can remind you of using drugs and stress you out,” Lindemer told STAT. Hey,Charlie "helps people keep their sobriety at the front of their mind.”

Michael Kidorf agrees. Kidorf is a psychiatrist and associate director of addiction treatment services at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. And he told STAT 'that the social networks of urban drug users tend to include a mix of people who use substances and people who are drug-free.'

"As you would expect, people who have more network members who use illicit drugs use more drugs [themselves] and engage in more risky behaviors," he said.

That's especially true with opioid users, who rely heavily on their contacts to secure heroin and other drugs. Studies consistently show that regular interaction with other users predicts poorer addiction treatment outcomes.

"It is relatively easy to tell substance users to ‘change people, places, and things,'" said Kidorf. "It is much harder to provide a strategy to help them achieve this important goal."

The sobriety app relies on a combination of data actively input by users, as well as data passively collected as they continue to use their cellphones. It then calculates the risk each contact poses.

Lindemer told STAT that she and her team don’t expect users to be completely upfront, especially during early recovery. Relationships can be tricky as they rapidly evolve. Consequently, Hey,Charlie will continue checking in periodically to ask: 'Is there anything you want to tell me about this person?'

Lindemer and her team are also now working to incorporate positive support features as well (i.e. letting supportive contacts know when their friend or family member is in a risky place).

“One of the things we know really well is that many people in recovery do have somebody who wants to help them," Lindemer said. "They often just don’t have the tools, and they don’t know when is the right time to reach out. So we’re trying to address that."

Recovery Boot Camp knows the dangers of triggers and temptations, and we welcome Hey,Charlie to the fight against relapse. We also know the importance a loved one can play in that battle. And we encourage incorporating sober support. In other words, if an app can help an addict avoid triggers and temptations, we're all for it!

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