- Associated Press - Monday, August 25, 2014

SALINA, Kan. (AP) - Temptation is always lurking, Jerry Hassler said, poised to nudge you back into drug and alcohol abuse.

He’s been sober for five months, but a return to destructive behavior is always one bad decision away. Hassler, 28, has fallen from his recovery before.

“It’s every minute of every day,” he said. “For me, the hardest part is when I’m down and out or depressed and there is nobody to talk to. That’s basically when a relapse happens.”

But technology from the Addiction Center for Health Enhancement System Studies at the University of Wisconsin at Madison (the acronym is ACHESS) offers a useful tool.

With the simple click of a smartphone app, assistance zooms in from cyberspace, and more often than before, helps to bring calm at critical moments and keeps addicts on the recovery path, The Salina Journal (https://bit.ly/1p61V4Q ).

“(ACHESS) is aimed at extending the use of the Internet and cellphones for options, for recovery tools, to help you stay clean and sober,” said Les Sperling, CEO of Central Kansas Foundation, a Salina-based nonprofit organization that helps people suffering from substance abuse.

A member of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, Hassler has been given a way to stay more closely attached to people trying to help him.

“This makes it easier to get past a crisis period. You’ve got your support right there,” Hassler said. “It’s like an AA meeting on your phone.”

In the process, he can offer help to someone else who is in a bad way.

Central Kansas Foundation used a $23,800 grant from the Kansas Health Foundation for its KanRecover project and subscribed to the app program.

Currently, 54 of CKF’s 197 clients from Salina, McPherson, Abilene and Junction City are using the app, and another dozen are about to join in, said Shane Hudson, vice president of clinical operations at CKF. The nonprofit agency is licensed to sign up 100 clients.

“We hope to expand ACHESS and get it out to even more people,” Hudson said. “Anyone struggling with addiction and has a smartphone can get signed up for the app.”

For information, call 825-6224, and ask for the Pathfinder Recovery Center.

The ACHESS app provides “communication with peer support groups and addiction experts, timely monitoring to assess the risk of relapse, reminders and alerts to encourage adherence to therapeutic goals, individualized addiction-related educational material and tools tailored to the needs of the particular patient, access to selected Internet-based resources, and one-touch communication with a care manager,” according to CKF materials.

The app updates Hassler’s days of sobriety and encourages him to keep going through a “thought for the day,” he said.

There are Yoga tips and other relaxation techniques, games to play, music to enjoy, and the technology allows you to connect with others in recovery. A discussion board is included, as well as a news feed.

The app alerts you “if you’re entering a danger zone, such as if you get within 600 feet of a liquor store,” said Amy Weaver, a CKF recovery coach.

App users get a $10 Wal-Mart gift card after three months if they’re utilizing the app regularly, Hudson said.

“With the app, there is always somebody on there. I just post what’s going on. I’m able to help with other people’s problems,” Hassler said. “If I post that I’m thinking about getting high, there will be people who will post what to do, where to go. You find out there are actually other people out there dealing with the same things.”

The “triggers” of addiction can be intense, but they also may be short lived, he said.

“The crisis lasts just a few minutes, and if you can get through that, you’re more liable to make it,” Hassler said.

You can message groups for discussion, someone in the recovery network, or a recovery coach.

“If you can’t get in touch with someone else, you’re gonna go with your own thoughts,” he said.

The app asks users if they’re confident that they can make it through their day, said Don Greene, senior recovery coach.

If the response is negative, he said, the app “notifies a counselor and we will get you some support. I will text back and talk to them, ask them to talk to a counselor or come by the recovery center.”

In the six months since the ACHESS program was launched, Greene is sure “the app has interrupted many relapses.”

He reported one day in early August when CKF received no alerts from app users.

“I look at it as the app’s working,” Greene said. “They’re probably talking amongst themselves and helping each other stay sober.”

Hassler has received messages from Greene and other recovery coaches, especially when the app senses through survey questions that he’s in danger of abusing drugs and alcohol again.

“It makes you feel good if somebody’s responding,” he said.

The app is encouraging, Hudson said, and advances treatment into a more comprehensive dimension.

“For me, personally, it’s opening my eyes to the possibilities of where we can go with technology,” he said. “We’re looking at how we can be the most effective all the time. You don’t have to drive into the office. Help is always with you.”


Information from: The Salina (Kan.) Journal, https://www.salina.com

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