A Therapeutic Relational Agent for Reducing Problematic Substance Use (Woebot): Development and Usability Study. Journal of medical Internet research Prochaska, J. J., Vogel, E. A., Chieng, A., Kendra, M., Baiocchi, M., Pajarito, S., Robinson, A. 2021; 23 (3): e24850


BACKGROUND: Misuse of substances is common, can be serious and costly to society, and often goes untreated due to barriers to accessing care. Woebot is a mental health digital solution informed by cognitive behavioral therapy and built upon an artificial intelligence-driven platform to deliver tailored content to users. In a previous 2-week randomized controlled trial, Woebot alleviated depressive symptoms.OBJECTIVE: This study aims to adapt Woebot for the treatment of substance use disorders (W-SUDs) and examine its feasibility, acceptability, and preliminary efficacy.METHODS: American adults (aged 18-65 years) who screened positive for substance misuse without major health contraindications were recruited from online sources and flyers and enrolled between March 27 and May 6, 2020. In a single-group pre/postdesign, all participants received W-SUDs for 8 weeks. W-SUDs provided mood, craving, and pain tracking and modules (psychoeducational lessons and psychotherapeutic tools) using elements of dialectical behavior therapy and motivational interviewing. Paired samples t tests and McNemar nonparametric tests were used to examine within-subject changes from pre- to posttreatment on measures of substance use, confidence, cravings, mood, and pain.RESULTS: The sample (N=101) had a mean age of 36.8 years (SD 10.0), and 75.2% (76/101) of the participants were female, 78.2% (79/101) were non-Hispanic White, and 72.3% (73/101) were employed. Participants' W-SUDs use averaged 15.7 (SD 14.2) days, 12.1 (SD 8.3) modules, and 600.7 (SD 556.5) sent messages. About 94% (562/598) of all completed psychoeducational lessons were rated positively. From treatment start to end, in-app craving ratings were reduced by half (87/101, 86.1% reporting cravings in the app; odds ratio 0.48, 95% CI 0.32-0.73). Posttreatment assessment completion was 50.5% (51/101), with better retention among those who initially screened higher on substance misuse. From pre- to posttreatment, confidence to resist urges to use substances significantly increased (mean score change +16.9, SD 21.4; P<.001), whereas past month substance use occasions (mean change -9.3, SD 14.1; P<.001) and scores on the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test-Concise (mean change -1.3, SD 2.6; P<.001), 10-item Drug Abuse Screening Test (mean change -1.2, SD 2.0; P<.001), Patient Health Questionnaire-8 item (mean change 2.1, SD 5.2; P=.005), Generalized Anxiety Disorder-7 (mean change -2.3, SD 4.7; P=.001), and cravings scale (68.6% vs 47.1% moderate to extreme; P=.01) significantly decreased. Most participants would recommend W-SUDs to a friend (39/51, 76%) and reported receiving the service they desired (41/51, 80%). Fewer felt W-SUDs met most or all of their needs (22/51, 43%).CONCLUSIONS: W-SUDs was feasible to deliver, engaging, and acceptable and was associated with significant improvements in substance use, confidence, cravings, depression, and anxiety. Study attrition was high. Future research will evaluate W-SUDs in a randomized controlled trial with a more diverse sample and with the use of greater study retention strategies.TRIAL REGISTRATION: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT04096001; http://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT04096001.

View details for DOI 10.2196/24850

View details for PubMedID 33755028