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An app to reduce the risk of relapse after withdrawal

Man holding a Bottle in his hand.
The risk of relapse is particularly high in the months following withdrawal. (Image: Colourbox)

The app-based FAU project is being funded with a total of 2.4 million euros.

Alcohol addiction is one of the most common psychiatric disorders in the world. It has grave consequences for patients and their relatives. The illness is often chronic, with the risk of a relapse particularly high in the months following withdrawal. Psychologists at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) now want to help patients who have just been discharged from hospital remain abstinent over the long term with a combination of an app and telephone coaching aimed at helping them find suitable services and measures tailored to their situation. The SmartAssistEntz project has received funding of approximately 2.4 million euros from the Federal Joint Committee, the highest self-governing committee in the German healthcare sector.

Although the German health system offers a number of services for (former) addicts, only a comparatively small proportion of patients who have completed an alcohol withdrawal programme in hospital take advantage of them after being discharged. This means that patients are failing to receive adequate support in a critical phase characterised by a high risk of relapse. ‘This is exactly where we want to intervene, in order to find the services most suited to the individual in question,’ explains Prof. Dr. Matthias Berking, Chair of Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy at FAU. Research into healthcare suggests that until now the majority of patients do not take advantage of any follow-up services after completing a withdrawal programme.

The concept designed by the FAU researchers consists of a mobile phone app, reinforced with telephone calls to a psychotherapist. The app offers a special training programme which helps sufferers abstain from alcohol in the long-term. By working through the units, they learn to strengthen their resolve, recognise their addiction behaviour, cope with risky situations and activate their own resources. In addition, the app uses telediagnostic services to identify services available after completing withdrawal treatment in a clinic. During phone calls with a psychotherapist, known as an eCoach, the patients draw up an individual plan with measures tailored to suit their own situation and circumstances. This may entail self-help groups, outpatient visits to the clinic or counselling together with their partner or family.

Researchers hope that the online-based approach will encourage more patients to take advantage of services available to assist those recovering from alcohol addiction, thereby reducing the relapse rate. As a result, the app could lead to fewer direct and indirect healthcare costs.

The scientists working with Prof. Berking are currently testing their model with clinics and counselling services in Franconia and the Munich region. In future, it will be able to be transferred to other regions or offered as standard healthcare throughout the whole of Germany. At the same time, they are investigating the effects of their concept. They are comparing in particular the risk of a relapse within six months of completing an alcohol withdrawal programme if their pilot scheme is used in comparison to the effects currently achieved by standard healthcare. The researchers will question doctors providing treatment, psychotherapists and psychologists and investigate data from health insurance providers and state pension insurance providers.

Further information:

Prof. Matthias Berking
Phone: +49 9131 8567585
matthias.berking@fau.de

Addition information