The Future is Never: A New Phone App for Alcoholics

April 10, 2014 • Culture


Man driving car and drinking can of beer. Kentucky, 1972. Photograph by William Gedney.

Allergy of the body and disease of the mind: Oh, alcoholism, you’ve got about 30% of the US whipped into submission. But don’t fret. Forget the serenity prayer and introducing yourself to strangers, bad coffee and sad looking cookies, you can now take it one app at a time from the privacy of your bedroom. Or bathroom. Or dive bar. Or barcarde. Really, wherever it is you like to do your drinking, because an app ain’t going to keep you on the straight and narrow.

That however, didn’t stop folks at the University of Wisconsin-Madison from developing an app with this terrible name: Addiction-Comprehensive Health Enhancement Support Systems, or A-CHESS. The app, tested on 349 subjects, has 17 functions, and an interface that looks like something Steve Jobs developed in the ‘80s. If they really wanted to test the app’s potential, they should have installed it on LiLo’s phone and watched her progress, or inevitable relapse. (Girl is essentially 349 alcoholics in one big-breasted body.)

With A-CHESS you don’t have to be a friend of Bill. You don’t have to actually be a friend of anyone (except maybe Bobby…Fisher?). Self-actualization be damned. Which leaves you plenty of time to scroll-troll Instragram leaving not-so-appropriate, whiskey-fueled comments on #tushytuesday photos, and watching too much Billy Eichler and wondering if you too would have sex with Paul Rudd for a dollar.  You’d do it for free, duh.

Because, without a doubt, with A-CHESS, no matter how fancy your in-patient treatment was, whether you ponied up for Promises, or you went straight to Betty Ford to hang with the latest Disney star, you’ll be crying tears of relapse in your vodka bottle before long. You think an app would have kept Raymond Chandler or John Cheever sober? (Trick question—nothing would have kept those two nuts sober.)

Seriously. Does online traffic school make you a better driver? Are there any apps that actually make us better people?

While A-CHESS does have interactive features—chat rooms and messaging abilities, for instance–there’s no way that a phone can replace getting your ass out of the house and having some old-fashioned face-to-face human interaction. You want to stay sober? You’ve got to put in the work. That means going to a meeting, working 12 steps, being totally miserable, and then maybe you’ll have a chance. If you want to take Charlie Sheen’s word for it, AA only has a 5-percent success rate.

Here’s the deal: Alcoholics are men and women who drink because they don’t know how not to, because they don’t have the mental willingness to say no. Alcoholics drink because it is a compulsion, because they don’t know when they are beaten. That’s why alchies lose friends, family, jobs, and homes, and, most often, despite of the severity of their desperation and desolation, they are incapable of putting down a drink.

Beyond that, alcoholics love being alone. They revel in it. They roll around in their misery and then they drink. And then they’re even more miserable. Think of this as the concentric circles of an alcoholic’s responsibility.

Raising a hand, admitting you’re an alcoholic, being held accountable by other humans, that’s what keeps you sober. Groups, steps, or just one other IRL human being, hold a drinker accountable.

Sorry, Bobby. It’s too easy to lie to a phone, slap a filter on your alcoholism and head to Echo Spring. Any alcoholic will lie given the chance or the anonymity to do so.

Excessive alcohol use is the third leading lifestyle-related cause of death in the nation. When pit against a drink, the bottle always wins. Recovery is nearly impossible to tackle on your own.

Keeping connected is key, downloading an app is a cop-out.


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