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CHESS grant to focus on reducing addiction relapse

November 10, 2008

A central characteristic of alcoholism and other addictive behaviors is their chronically relapsing nature. Relapse reduces people’s quality of life, puts great strains on family relationships and great burden on society through crime, health care costs and reduced productivity. A five-year, $2.8 million grant awarded to the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Center for Health Enhancement Systems Studies (CHESS) by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism will study ways to reduce relapse through the latest in communication technology.

Principal investigator David H. Gustafson, professor of industrial engineering at UW–Madison, directs the project, titled “Developing and Testing a Computer-based Alcohol Use Disorder Recovery System.” This randomized clinical trial will develop and test a mobile phone-based relapse-prevention system that offers support to alcohol dependent people when and wherever it is needed.

The system to be tested is named Addiction CHESS (ACHESS) and is based upon the Comprehensive Health Enhancement Support System (CHESS). ACHESS will be delivered through a smart phone rather than a personal computer and will focus on helping patients leaving residential treatment for alcohol dependence.

“Our primary hypothesis is that ACHESS will improve competence, relatedness and autonomy, which will reduce the days of risky drinking over a 12-month period,” says Gustafson.

Cost, geographic distance, lack of peer support and time constraints can reduce participation in aftercare programs that focus on relapse prevention. The ACHESS project is built on the premise computer-based support systems can reduce these barriers by providing consistent, 24-hour access to information and support.

ACHESS smart phones will offer more widespread access than a personal computer, offer optional audio delivery to improve access for those who have literacy challenges and will be enhanced with services tailored to relapse prevention. Study participants will have access to peer support groups and addiction experts and will receive reminders and individualized information to encourage adherence to therapeutic goals. They will also have access to one-touch communication with a care manager.

Two hundred eighty alcohol dependent patients will be recruited from two treatment agencies: CAB Health and Recovery Services in Boston and Fayette Cos. in Peoria, Ill. Patients randomly assigned to ACHESS will learn to use it during the two weeks before discharge from residential care.

“Communication technology shows great promise for addressing the aftercare needs of patients who have been treated for alcohol dependence,” says Gustafson. “ACHESS also shows great potential for maximizing treatment dollars in a time when budgets for behavioral health care services are in jeopardy.”

The Center for Health Enhancement Systems Studies is a growing and dynamic mission-driven organization directed by Gustafson. Focused on improving health and quality of life through organizational and individual change projects and research, the center consists of two primary initiatives: CHESS is focused on helping individuals with chronic or life-threatening illnesses improve their quality of life through Web-based support or other kinds of technology; and the Network for the Improvement of Addiction Treatment (NIATx) is dedicated to improving the quality of addiction and mental health services.