Addiction is a serious problem in the United States, costing over $400 billion annually. According to an extensive study conducted by the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, text messaging can be extremely effective in bring about meaningful behavior change. While mHealth measures are improving patient outcomes across all healthcare fields, their value in supporting addiction recovery is especially noteworthy. Text messaging programs can provide the networked support on which addiction rehabilitation depends, and they do so at a cost far cheaper than comparable in-person support.

Ninety percent of all adults in the U.S. own cellphones and most of these users prefer to communicate via text message instead of phone calls or email. Text messaging is used by friends and family to communicate with each other on a daily, sometimes even hourly basis. It should be no surprise then, that text messaging boasts 90% open rates and extremely high click-through rates compared to other communication channels.

For people recovering from addiction, text messaging can provide a non-intrusive channel that allows them to maintain frequent contact with a caring network of healthcare professionals, volunteers, and other resources throughout their journey to recovery.

Four ways text messaging can help recovering addicts

Text messaging is a flexible and versatile behavior change tool. Here are four examples of SMS programs that can help individuals recover from addiction:

Mobile messaging helps individuals in recovery1) Daily Reinforcement Messaging:
The road to recovery is a long one, and one that requires daily motivation. A successful recovery requires consistency, structure, and regular reinforcement. Traditional programs provide support with group meetings, counselor appointments, and dedicated sponsors. With text and multimedia messages, organizations can complement these services by delivering motivational messages in between meetings and visits. A simple, personal note sent at the right time can make a big difference in helping someone stay positive.

2) Interactive Health Management: According to research published in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, text messaging has shown to increase self-monitoring and setting short term goals. Text messaging is able to achieve this because of its inherent conversational nature. For example, a message could say, “It’s day 12/30! How are you feeling ? Reply with GOOD, AVERAGE, or BAD.” The individual can respond directly to the message with their current mood. Depending on their response, tailored messages can help motivate the individual to keep working towards their goal. Helping individuals track their progress helps show that the next milestone isn’t that far away after all.

Recovery support groups3) Support & Resource Locator:
Patients in recovery benefit from consistent contact with others and easy access to in-person resources. Another way text messaging can help recovering addicts is to act as a locator service that sends information on nearby support groups, clinics, and rehabilitation centers, based on their current zip code. This is especially useful during the holidays or if a person is traveling for work, where their normal schedule is disrupted and they are more tempted to give in to cravings. Programs like these show individuals that regardless of where they are – at home, at work, or on the road – help is nearby.

4) Connection to a Caring Network: Research published by National Institutes of Health indicates that the support of a network contributes to long-term recovery by buffering stress and providing hope, strategy and role models. A text message hotline is one way to give people access to a caring network at any time. Whether it’s a volunteer, sponsor, or trained counselor, a live SMS chat program can provide individuals with immediate support when they need it most. If someone feels uncomfortable making a phone call or visiting a rehab center, text messaging can be the best way for that person to get help and prevent a dangerous relapse.
Text messaging for alcoholic recoveryWhile text messaging alone may not be sufficient in helping someone recover from a serious addiction, it can provide access to the resources and people that can. While each of these text messaging use cases can be offered on their own, they work best together, offering individuals multiple ways to seek help and take responsibility for their well-being.

This post originally appeared on Mobile Commons.