Breaking free online
Apps designed to help people recover from dependency on drugs and alcohol have been around for some years now. However, one of the newest, the Breaking Free Companion app which I was given the chance to review over the Christmas holiday is by far the most sophisticated — and useful — that I have seen.
The app has been designed specifically to tie in with the Breaking Free Online (www.breakingfreeonline.com) treatment and recovery programme. Its main focus is on strengthening peoples recovery and resilience from drug and alcohol difficulties by using mobile technology to bring psychological techniques into real world settings.
Because most people have their smartphones with them at all times, the app helps bring the learning from the programme into everyday life and focuses on a range of tools and techniques which will be familiar to those in recovery (and professionals working in the sector):
- Access to a mindfulness video created specifically to instantly help manage cravings and urges when they hit.
- Access to a mindfulness video developed specifically by psychologists to help manage difficult emotions such as stress and anxiety during times of crisis.
- Notifications of high risk places and the essential coping strategies that are personally selected to help overcome potential triggers to relapse. (The accompanying literature notes that this is to help bring the technique of overcoming Seemingly Irrelevant Decisions into the 21st century.)
- Notifications to ‘nudge’ or prompt action planning steps that can often slip or be forgotten.
- Notifications of positive activities to help with planning your time positively. These alerts are great for helping to get active again, attending appointments and starting to build structure and routine throughout every stage of the recovery journey.
The welcome screen (above) links with the work an individual has done on the online programme.
The “set my alerts” section enables you to identify risky places (such as a pub, using friend’s house, ex-partner’s home — or anywhere at all that might undermine an individual’s recovery). If you approach that place, your phone will alert you and remind you of the coping method you have selected to cope to avoid lapsing.
You can also use the app to remind you of the positive activities that you have resolved to undertake to make you feel positive about yourself and any positive steps for change you have also set up.
The other two buttons – “Shift my focus” and “Surf my cravings” take the user to mindfulness videos designed to help cope with cravings and avoid lapses. The former takes you for a walk through a forest and the latter takes you through a number of key steps including focusing on your breathing, then on concentrating where your feeling of craving is located in your body and on “surfing over the waves of craving” until they have receded and you are in a calm and relaxed place again.
It’s difficult to assess the effectiveness of the app fully without testing it in a real world situation. However, my overall impression is of a thoughtfully constructed app which is clearly evidence-based and utilises the power of modern technology not only to personalise recovery strategies (an essential for success) but to port these strategies into every day life.
I would be delighted to hear from anyone who has used the app — or any similar ones — for real, either as a person in recovery, treatment worker or peer mentor.
Please use the comments section below.