AI-Delivered Support Shows Promise in Treating People Battling SUD

An artificial intelligence-powered app designed to help users manage their moods can also be helpful in the treatment of substance use disorder (SUD), according to a study recently published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research. The findings suggest artificial intelligence (AI) could play an important role in supplementing and improving SUD treatment in the future.

The AI app focused on in the study is Woebot, which uses AI to deliver talk therapy and help individuals monitor their moods. Chatbots drive the conversations and assist individuals experiencing mood issues such as stress and anxiety, as well as other mental health problems.

Researchers from Stanford University and Woebot Health, the parent company of Woebot, conducted the study. Woebot Health, a digital therapeutics provider, was founded in 2017 by a group of psychologists and AI experts at Stanford.

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For the study, researchers recruited 101 people ages 18 to 59 who were dealing with SUD. Their moods, substance cravings and feelings of pain were then tracked over an 8-month period. The average age of participants was nearly 37, with most identifying alcohol as their primary substance issue.

Nearly three-quarters of the group were female, and almost all participants had been sheltering in place at the time of study due to the pandemic.

Researchers found that users engaged Woebot for an average of 15.7 days during the study, receiving around 75 messages per week as their occasions of substance use fell by 30%.

During the study’s time span, cravings decreased by half, while participants’ confidence to resist urges to use substances grew by 36%.

The app also had a positive effect on users’ depression and anxiety symptoms, as feelings of depression and anxiety fell by 21% and 23%, respectively

The researchers hailed the findings as proof that AI-based platforms can play a significant role in improving the SUD treatment process alongside human-delivered therapy. The results could help further bolster the number of digital treatment options in the SUD space, as the nation’s drug epidemic has reached new highs.

“One of the most interesting results from this study is related to effective bond formation,” Judith Prochaska, a professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine and one of study’s researchers, said in a Woebot Health press release. “Participants rated Woebot highest on effective bond formation, supporting the thesis that a relational agent [like a chatbot] can be engaging, perceived as empathetic and responsive.”

The researchers noted limitations of the study include the fact that a large number of participants were female, non-Hispanic white and full-time workers. Researchers called on the need for future research to expand on the study and include a more diverse pool of participants, along with having more participants with a variety of SUD issues besides alcohol.

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