The age of COVID-19 has been marked by chronic stress, anxiety and isolation. Our nation is now witness to a pandemic of mental health issues, particularly among addiction sufferers and those predisposed to substance abuse.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of June 2020, 13% of Americans reported starting or increasing substance use as a way of coping with stress or emotions related to COVID-19.Demand for substance use treatment is skyrocketing and clinicians’ time is stretched to the limit. Forward-thinking clinicians are integrating new digital technologies into treatment plans to cost-effectively and efficiently improve patient engagement and communication and extend patient reach.
Digital therapeutics use computer-based and mobile technologies to complement medical or psychological treatments. Until now, professionals in the substance abuse field have not taken full advantage of all that technology has to offer, often because they are simply unaware of the options available. But for those at the forefront of innovation, digital technology is helping them actively involve patients in their care like never before.
With more than 20 million U.S. adults struggling with substance use disorder, it is important that we use every tool available to support addiction sufferers. Here are just three ways clinically-validated digital tools supports patient care and engagement:
Drives Self Awareness
Possessing self-awareness is important to successfully travel the path to recovery. However, addiction dulls emotions and feelings and eats away at self-awareness. Patients have difficulty accurately assessing behaviors, motivations and triggers. Digital tools can help patients assess their cognitive and emotional functioning in the moment and build awareness of emotions, thoughts and behavior patterns.
Improves Self Care
Learning to care for oneself, physically and emotionally, is essential to recovery. Digital interventions provide easy-to-access stress management techniques and tools to quell in-the-moment cravings and reduce stress and impulsivity. Guided breathing exercises, mindfulness, CBT, emotion cue awareness, implicit positivity, gratitude journal and positive affirmations are examples of digital tools patients can employ to address craving triggers. These online exercises complement in-person and other clinical therapies as needed.
Motivates Positive Action
The journey to recovery is winding and bumpy. It is never straightforward and effortless. Nevertheless addiction sufferers often begin recovery highly motivated. This enthusiasm can quickly give way to recovery fatigue. Because success is hard to measure when it comes to a disease that is life long and without a cure, loss of motivation is unsurprising. Digital tools provide patients with the ability to assess their cognitive and emotional capacities; provide tools to strengthen mental health and track improvements. The numbers don’t lie. They serve as a tangible and motivating barometer of success.
Supports After Care
Addiction recovery continues long after in-house rehabilitation treatment is completed. Digital technology provides ongoing support after patients leave rehab. Resources and tools are at their fingertips –only as far as their telephone or computer. Further, technology can help maintain close connections between outpatient and treatment provider. In some cases, clinicians can tap into digital tools to monitor and track patients progress and flag those at risk of relapse. For instance, declining cognitive scores, including memory, focus and executive function, are associated with higher risk of relapse. Those with low resilience scores are also at a considerably higher risk of using once again.
Nothing can replace valuable in-person therapy for addiction. However, adjunct digital therapeutic technology is a cost-effective way to support clinical treatment, while increasing patient engagement and reducing risk of relapse. Digital therapeutic technology is just one more effective tool in a clinician’s toolbox.
At a time when the need is great and clinical resources are limited, clinicians have an opportunity to extend their reach and their impact. If innovative digital tools can help patients navigate the bumpy road to recovery, isn’t it worth a try?
Matt Resteghini is Chief Marketing Officer at Total Brain, a mental health monitoring and support platform that empowers clinicians and people in recovery with access to a clinically-validated assessment of the brain’s twelve core capacities, a mental health screen for risk of seven mental conditions, digital self-care tools that provide support between therapy sessions, and an objective clinical dashboard to track evidence-based outcomes and inform clinical care plans.