Do Online Addiction Recovery Support Apps Work?

addiction recovery support apps

Table of Contents

Benefits and Risks of Mental Health Apps

There are pros and cons of mental health apps. An online support group format might benefit one individual but discourage another. It all depends on what works for you. To see if a therapy app or a mental health app would support you, consider the pros and cons.

Online support group apps can be beneficial by:

  • allowing you to have more frequent or flexible visits or participation.
  • Provide an opportunity for those in rural areas to attend more meetings and make more connections.
  • Give you a degree of privacy or anonymity that is not possible otherwise.

If these qualities sound appealing to you, you might thrive through a mental health app. The flexibility that an app provides could suit you better than a scheduled therapy or counseling session. Sometimes people need support where they are at during a certain moment.

Being able to log onto an app at any point in the day could help you in your recovery process. There are risks of free mental health apps and therapy apps, though.

Some potential pitfalls of online support group apps are:

  • Communicating only by written text can lead to misunderstandings and confusing interactions between group members.
  • Anonymity can increase the amount of inappropriate or disrespectful comments due to no personal accountability.
  • Participating solely online can contribute to feelings of isolation.
  • Online communities are pretty susceptible to misinformation and information overload.
  • Some bad actors use the online environment to prey on others through romance scams, fraud, or solicitation of products.

Hopefully, by being aware of these possible outcomes, you will approach them easier than being blindsided. It is alright if these risks make you nervous. You can always try out an app to see how you like it. If you are uncomfortable, then try seeking out in-person support group sessions.

Mental Health App Standards

The best mental health apps depend on a set of standards. You get to decide what app you want to download. However, if you don’t know where to begin, various credible organizations have vetted and ranked the over 10,000 mental health apps that are available.

The US National Library of Medicine believes that the minimum standards of a mental health app should include clear information on:

  • data safety and privacy
  • effectiveness
  • user experience/adherence
  • data integration

If all of that information is clear, the app is worth exploring. Within these applications, users will find techniques used in treatment centers such as Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). These methods have proven to be helpful for addiction, mental health, and other struggles such as OCD or anxiety.

Results have also shown that the combination of peer support, professional support, informational sessions, and planned activities in these apps have been effective alongside these techniques.

App Categories and Rankings

The best mental health apps depend on your mental health condition and stage of recovery., a website founded in 1996 by Ivan K. Goldberg, MD. Goldberg, a clinical psycho-pharmacologist and psychiatrist, created the top mental health apps for 2021.

The top 25 effective mental health apps

General Mental Health Apps

  • What’s Up
  • Mood Kit

Addiction Apps

  • Twenty-Four Hours a Day
  • Quit That! – Habit Tracker

Anxiety Apps

  • MindShift
  • Self-Help for Anxiety Management (SAM)
  • CBT Thought Record Diary

Bipolar Disorder Apps

  • IMoodJournal
  • eMoods

Depression Apps

  • Talkspace Online Therapy
  • Happify
  • MoodTools

Suicide Prevention App

  • notOK

Eating Disorder Apps

  • Recovery Record
  • Rise Up and Recover
  • Lifesum

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Apps

  • nOCD
  • Worry Watch
  • GG OCD


  • PTSD Coach
  • Breathe2Relax

Schizophrenia Apps


Mindfulness and Meditation Apps

  • Headspace
  • Calm
  • Ten Percent Happier

Other organizations have developed ways to evaluate mental health apps to determine effectiveness and credibility. The American Psychiatric Association created an eight-minute video explaining their app rating system.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America uses a chart they created; ranking applications based on their:

  • ease-of-use
  • effectiveness
  • personalization
  • interactive feedback
  • and research evidence

Health experts predict that mental health apps and therapy apps will be used more in the future as they continue to evolve. The self-management that these apps can provide benefits individuals unable to seek help or treatment face-to-face.

If you are still uncertain about downloading a mental health app, there are some questions and concerns you can walk through first to feel more comfortable.

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Using an Addiction Recovery App

If any of those mental health apps sounded appealing, then you might consider joining one. The fact that one of these apps can help you is great news! To determine what app will best suit you, there is some research you can do. All of these apps can vary in how they are organized and led. Therefore, before joining the community, make sure you download an app tailored to your needs.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself before using addiction recovery (mental health) apps:

  • Is this app compatible with my specific mental health condition and stage of recovery?
  • Am I attempting to use this recovery support app to replace the care I know I need?
  • How often does this group meet, how long are the meetings and are the meetings indefinite?
  • Does the support group meet my schedule needs?
  • Is there a moderator or facilitator that keeps the group safe?
  • How are the facilitators trained?
  • Is there a mental health expert available?
  • How does this app protect my privacy?
  • What are the participation rules and requirements?
  • What are these meetings like? How are they structured?
  • Is this recovery app free? Or are there associated costs?

It is important to ask these questions and look up answers to see if a specific mental health app will benefit you. Red flags you need to be aware of are if there are fees. If there is any pressure to purchase services or products, do not get involved.

Another red flag is if the app claims they can 100% cure your condition. We hope the app will help you; however, this promise might be more ‘clickbait’ than reality. It is good to air on the side of caution, but don’t be discouraged if it takes you some time to find the best fit.

The Strength of Digital Technology

We live in a digital world, whether we like it or not. Technology has integrated itself into our work environment, schools, and home.

For better or for worse, we have digital technology at our disposal. The good news is, when it comes to mental health and addiction, the world now has tools to reach people all over the world and help them heal.

Researchers administered an online survey in 2019 called the “Use of Smartphone Apps, Social Media, and Web-Based Resources to Support Mental Health and Well-Being.”

It was conducted by Katarzyna Stawarz Ph.D., Chris Preist Ph.D., and David Coyle Ph.D. According to the survey, “a strength of digital technology, particularly smartphones, is its ubiquity and personal nature. It means that users can access support at the moment, in response to feelings or circumstances, and engage with a therapeutic practice or material when needed.”

Having mobile mental health apps in counseling can strengthen the digital age. This kind of mobile availability can establish positive habits in its users.

A benefit of mental health apps that in-person sessions don’t have is the possibility of immediate assistance or guidance.

Using this strength of digital technology can help people struggling with mental illness or addiction. For example, if you walk through a part of town where you used to drink or do drugs, it might trigger you, and you may get a little scared.

You can pull out your app and open material to guide you from the temptation. Or maybe another person is on the app who you can talk to. This kind of immediate help in a person’s day-to-day life allows them to focus on their recovery goal 24/7.

User Feedback Considerations

Feedback is available from patients who have downloaded and used mental health or support group-type phone applications.

A comparative survey study was directed by John Torous, Hannah Wiśniewski, Gang Liu, and Matcheri Keshavan. It was called the “Mental Health Mobile Phone App Usage, Concerns, and Benefits Among Psychiatric Outpatients.”

The study surveyed 113 patients from a private clinic and 73 from a Department of Mental Health clinic. About 10% of each clinic downloaded and used a mental health app.

According to the patient’s feedback, “patients at both clinics were most concerned about the privacy of mental health apps. Those at the state DMH clinic viewed cost savings as the greatest benefit, and those at the private clinic reported time as the greatest benefit”.

Mental health apps are more cost-effective and are more flexible when it comes to time. It is natural for people to be concerned about privacy settings.

Anonymity can be beneficial or harmful. The goal should be to find happy medium privacy but not become too closed off that you don’t grow. In a way, an app is more private since you don’t have to show up in person. The truth is that sharing personal issues is difficult, and it can allow patients to be more open because it is easier to share through an app.

If you are considering seeking treatment, call us today. We can help guide you as you look into the multiple treatment options, therapy, and counseling.

The key to healing from mental illness and addiction in relationships! We want to help you find your community of support, whether in person or on an app. Call us if you have any questions or concerns about your recovery journey.

Apps Cannot Replace Addiction Treatment and In-Person Support Groups.

The truth about addiction recovery apps is that they are here to stay. In time, they will also become more popular. However, it’s important to note that these support apps cannot replace evidence-based inpatient and outpatient treatment for addiction.

In fact, in the early stages of recovery, where you may be going through detox, needing extra supervision and care, these apps cannot help you.

Medical professionals recommend using these apps as a supplemental support system in addition to in-person treatment and support groups.

If you’re seeking a recovery plan to overcome an addiction, call us today at (888) 906-0952. Let us help you change your life!

Sources of Information

[1] Mayo Clinic
[2] NCBI Study
[5] study
[6] Pubmed study

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