According to the Office for National Statistics, 1 in 11 adults aged 16 to 59, approximately 3 million adults, reported constant drug use last year. IBTimes UK

A group of researchers from five colleges at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) are currently testing a new method of delivering mental health therapy to people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction, and the aggressive behaviour that typically comes with substance abuse. The study is also receiving full support from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), with total funding for the project expected to reach approximately $5 million if certain milestones are met.

RIT is running a randomised clinical trial alongside the Food and Drug Administration in order to test the therapy platform known as "RITchCBT", a self-guided, interactive programme that uses cognitive behavioural therapy for encouraging healthy changes to behaviour, preventing domestic violence and providing specific coping skills for triggers and withdrawal cravings.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy used to treat anxiety, depression, substance abuse and various behavioural health disorders. Digital platforms programmed to deliver CBT are expected to assist with offsetting the gaps in treatment that occur when a human therapist deviates from the treatment protocols, thus potentially affecting a patient's recovery.

According to Caroline Easton, RIT professor of behavioural health and lead researcher of the study, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, annual healthcare costs for drug and alcohol addiction exceeded a colossal $700 billion, and care for intimate partner violence (IPV) cases reached $12.6 million.

Easton comments: "Substance use disorders and intimate partner violence are devastating to families and society. The pandemic made IPV worse and underscored the need for digital technology development that can make behavioural health treatment more accessible."

According to Alcohol Change UK, there are over 600,000 dependent drinkers in England, and only 18 per cent receive treatment. Alcohol misuse is the biggest risk factor for death, ill health and disability among 15 to 49-year-olds in the UK. IBTimes UK

"We're not looking to replace the human therapist. We're looking for the tool to get outcomes as good as a human therapist. Then we can give the digital tool to clinicians to use in their practice or in the hospital setting to give them more therapeutic tools at their disposal," Easton continued.

This NIH clinical trial will assess the effectiveness of RITchCBT, which will administer CBT via a customisable avatar, and also compare the results with the outcomes of human-led therapy. The primary goal of the study is to show that the RITchCBT programme can be just as effective at reducing substance use disorder symptoms as a human therapist, according to Easton. If the trial is successful, the next stage of the project will be to focus on improving treatment outcomes.

The first phase of the 12-week clinical trial will begin this summer. To conduct the trial, 40 male patients will be randomly selected, and then assigned either to the RITchCBT programme, or a human therapist at the Rochester Regional Chemical Dependency. Easton announced that after two years, the trial will randomly select another 160 patients.

The grant from NIH will help with funding graduate students from multiple colleges and promote the RIT & Rochester Regional Health Alliance, a partnership between the university and the health system that fostered RIT's College of Health Sciences and Technology.

"This study has created a convergence of fields across campus with unique talents of different faculty members," Easton said.