February 27, 2020  Last Update: November 12, 2019, 4:01 pm

Smartphone “Sober App” Cures Alcoholism

I had a real good rant drafted for this one, but it got too negative and I didn’t want to “be that guy” today. So let me just say this about Dr. David H. Gustafson and his “A-CHESS Sober App” which is getting tons of press today as an amazing new technology to help addicts in recovery:

1. Your smartphone app that “alerts” recovering addicts when they are near a bar or other opportunity to use, is probably a trigger more than a help. When I’m on my way back to my car after shopping for milk for my kid, I really don’t want to be reminded that there is a bar conveniently right around the corner. Your experimental design didn’t address that, so your data will never show it. Your smartphone app will get all the credit for positive outcomes, with no liability for such a negative influence.

Smartphone App for Alcoholics, or Happy Hour Finder?

2. The fact that you created a support network for your study patients is why they did better in recovery than the control group. This one is obvious to everyone I know. If you hadn’t been also triggering them to drink, the numbers would probably have been even better.

3. Your sexy “panic button” that the press and naive public love so much, is a crass and insensitive pandering to the public ignorance of addiction. Oh my God, out of control? Use the PANIC BUTTON! Helpful or not for individuals in recovery, the “panic button” exploits stereotypes and hinders access to treatment. Dr. Gustafson has taken public money to help increase access to treatment, so this part confuses me. Maybe the ends justify the means? It is good to have one-touch access to “call my sponsor”, for sure.

4. Alcohol is a substance, and individuals addicted to alcohol are addicts. If it wasn’t alcohol, would it be something else? If my new improved smartphone tells me “Hey, watchout! There’s a pub nearby!”, will it also tell me “Hey that corner has a dark alley where you can get some drugs, so avoid it!”?  Or how about “Here comes your friend Doug… he’s an enabler! Better turn the other direction!”

This thing is everywhere in the press today. Yahoo! news, The Guardian… the AP even listed it on the “10 Things You Need To Know Today” page. Dr. Gustafson sure does know how to get press for himself and his research team.

Here’s the thing about the 300 people they “studied” in their randomized clinical trial: they were just out of initial treatment, from programs that were known to specifically NOT provide aftercare or follow up addiction treatment. If anything, this study simply shows that follow-on addiction treatment, including 12 step fellowship support, helps.

It would just remind me constantly that I am fighting addiction and I am doing ok today and I need to remain vigilant at all times and I have supportive friends and associates and even strangers nearby who are willing to help me if necessary, it will help me in my recovery.

Alas, but Dr. Gustafson’s study is over now. The support network is shut down. All I’m left with now is this location-aware app which, for probably a small monthly fee, will alert me every time “hey — there’s a pub right over there!“.

Silly me to think researchers would have a better grasp of addiction and addiction treatment than this.


  • AP “smart phone app helps boozer’s recovery (seriously… that was the title))
  • Yahoo News (it made the home page)
  • The Guardian on the Sober App (link)
  • JAMA research study report (link)
  • Dr. Gustafson’s funded grant to increase access to addiction treatment (link)
  • Dr. Gustafson himself (link)
  • Dr. Gustafson’s project’s most-downloaded document (a how to bill for services guide PDF)
  • Cocktail Compass – the Essential Tool for the Hyperlocal Lush (link)


  1. […] writer’s editorial highlighted a new smartphone app designed to help alcoholics. The app points out nearby bars to recovering alcoholics. The intentions are good, but is that […]

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