The opioid addiction epidemic didn’t disappear during the COVID-10 pandemic. There’s no vaccine that protects people from substance use disorder. We’ve written about a wide variety of technologies aimed at helping people with addiction. For example, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) found success with a telehealth program aimed at helping patients taper off controlled substance prescriptions. PursueCare has an at-home telehealth opioid addiction treatment program that includes physician consults, counseling, and addiction treatment medication prescriptions.

Today, San Francisco-based Woebot Health announced study results published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR). The report, A Therapeutic Relational Agent for Reducing Problematic Substance Use (Woebot): Development and Usability Study, found that the Woebot therapeutical relational agent helped patients with problematic substance use. The chatbot helped patients decrease their cravings and their occasions of substance use. Woebot combines artificial intelligence (AI) and conversational user experience UX) to support behavioral health treatment. For eight weeks, 101 participants accessed the Woebot chatbot on smartphones.

The study was conducted in partnership with Stanford University. Patients in the study formed therapeutic bonds with Woebot. During the study, the participants self-reported improvement in several measures of substance use. Highlights of the study results include a 50% decrease in cravings, 35% increase in confidence to resist urges, 30% decrease in occasions of substance use, 23% decrease in symptoms of anxiety, and a 21% decrease in symptoms of depression.

The JMIR Woebot study is the first in a series. Subsequent studies will include trials with randomized controls to support the results’ validity and reliability. It’s heartening to see the published results, but self-reported results are weak and inconclusive.

While we won’t go to the bank on the current Woebot study results, we look forward to future studies conducted by the partners. Digital therapeutics have many emerging roles in health and wellness; perhaps none are more important than helping people reduce substance dependence.