How the use of new technologies changes the treatment of Alcohol Use Disorders

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Dr Antoni Gual

Director at the Addictions Unit at the Clinic Hospital of Barcelona, Spain and Alcohol Consultant at the Health Department of Catalonia, Spain

Dr Antoni Gual is a psychiatrist, with a long experience in alcohol research, including both clinical and public health fields. He is the Head of the Alcohol Unit at the Hospital Clinic of Barcelona, Spain, and also acts as Alcohol Consultant to the Department of Health of Catalonia. He is involved in several European research projects in the areas of public health and clinical trials. He is Vice-president of the International Network on Brief Interventions for Alcohol Problems and former president of the Spanish Scientific Society for the Study of Alcohol and Alcoholism.



New technologies have changed our lives dramatically, but treatment of Alcohol Use Disorders (AUD) remains essentially as it was at the end of the previous century. Computers have been widely introduced in medical practices, but they are often more an interference than a tool to improve the therapeutic relationship.

Mobile devices can passively and actively collect huge amounts of data that can provide meaningful clinical information: our digital phenotype. Ecological momentary assessment techniques provide precise data on our behaviour, and set the ground for the implementation of ecological momentary interventions, provided in real time through our cell phones, which can serve to reduce the risk of relapse or for drunk-driving behaviour.

Monitoring blood alcohol concentration (BAC) will probably become easier with the development of new wearable technology, and there are interesting developments to estimate BAC using the accelerometers of cell phones to analyse the owner’s gait.

Artificial Intelligence is also being used to simplify the administration of questionnaires (Computer Assisted Tests), and has already been tested in robots used to deliver motivational interventions aimed at changing habits. Virtual reality techniques are another promising area of research which can be applied to clinical settings.

All in all, it looks as if robots will not yet replace clinicians; but clinicians need to adapt to and capitalise on technological advances that may improve the diagnosis and treatment of AUD.

 

Conflicts of Interest: Dr Gual has received funding from Lundbeck to develop the mobile app Sideal for the management of AUD, and is coordinating the project d-HealthyLife, funded by EIT Health, which delivers training for d-health developers in key co-creation areas.