UT study looks to use text message counseling to help those struggling with substance abuse

The study is possible through a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse focusing on how young people respond to different forms of counseling.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A first-of-its-kind study at the University of Tennessee is testing a new counseling strategy through texting.

The study was made possible through a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse focusing on how young people respond to different forms of counseling.

Telehealth services saw significant growth in demand during 2020, and officials said that there’s no slowing down the role it will play in daily health.

Researcher Dr. Michael Mason is hoping to make another advancement in telehealth.

“A new sort of awareness that telehealth, virtual zoom and texts delivered interactions can be really effective,” he said.

He’s looking to fine-tune text message counseling for those seeking help for substance abuse. It’ll be done through a study of 1,000 young adults who struggle with marijuana use. 

“It’s looking at how to make our communication engaging to them, not off-putting,” he said. “But it also communicates that some people struggle with this. I think it’s something that will be an additional dimension to healthcare and behavioral healthcare.”

The five-year study focuses on young people in Tennessee and Colorado, texting them every other day for a month.

“It walks them through evidence-based reflection on their use,” he said. “We try to activate their own motivation to meet their goals — to highlight how things are going now and how they would like them to be.”

The COVID-19 pandemic posed problems for the study which researchers said set it behind, but Mason said they overcame the obstacles and he hopes the intervention program can make impactful change in the future.

“It would be available to other university counseling centers and other organizations and healthcare and schools,” he said.

He expects the text-based intervention program to help in numerous ways as he sees a lot of overlap between anxiety and depression as well. 

“They will see a lot of things we can do effectively, efficiently through these kinds of zoom or text-based interactions,” he said.

The study continues to look for more participants. You can find more information here. 

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