University of Wisconsin researchers have designed a smart-phone application to aid in the recovery from alcoholism, and its clinical success has placed it at the forefront of addiction countering technology.

The Center for Health Enhancement System Studies is a research center on campus that has been developing computer programs to aid in human crisis since 1973, according to its website.

Some of its earlier developments worked to quantify the lethality of suicidal behavior and prevent adolescents from engaging in risky health behaviors at young ages, according to the site.

“CHESS has been developing websites to help people manage chronic diseases for some time and when mobile apps became a possibility we saw they could be used for addictions rather than solely using websites,” UW researcher Andrew Isham said.

Isham said the app has been a result of the collaborative work of CHESS principal investigator David Gustafson, lead programmer Haile Berhe and himself.

A number of addiction treatment providers and patients have been crucial to the success of the app’s development as well a number of student hourly workers that partake in conducting clinical studies, Isham said. Patients using the A-CHESS app experienced 57 percent fewer risky drinking days at the four month mark than those in the control group, he said.

The app provides patients support from all angles, sending them encouraging messages, asking them questions to assess their mental state and connecting them to online support groups and counselors, Isham said.

“Another interesting feature is one that allows patients to enter geographically-referenced high-risk locations, so if they have a place they used to go to drink they can make it so that their phone will alert them or others,” Isham said.

While there are a number of programs that are commercially available that offer some of these features, Isham said A-CHESS is the only app that incorporates all of the features in one.

The app is currently only compatible with the UW Health server and its patient information, but the CHESS research team is working to expand it and make it commercially available so that it can be purchased and used by other clinicians, Isham said.

“These sort of systems have enormous potential,” Gustafson told Health Day, “They are going to allow us to turn around not only addiction treatment, but the whole field of health care.”

One of the primary challenges in advancing the app to the next level is technology is constantly changing, which makes the analysis a bit of a moving target as well, Isham said.

Isham said UW was the perfect place to conduct the research and development behind the app due to the strength across countless departments.

“We work in collaboration with people from computer science, across clinical schools, psychologists, primary care physicians, people in life science communication and journalism and we combine all of these skills to come up with solutions that address the multiple dimensions of a person,” Isham said.

Before it is formally commercialized and used on a wide scale, CHESS is addressing privacy policies and continuing to develop different components of the app, he said.

Isham said CHESS continues to experience successful results in clinical trials and in turn is seeing an increasing demand from other agencies to use the app in treatment.