Can ChatGPT Assist in Addiction Recovery?

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Can a hybrid model of AI+Traditional Methods transform the recovery industry? Some of us are already doing it.

What is ChatGPT?

ChatGPT is an AI chatbot released by OpenAI that has captured the collective imagination of the Internet with its uncanny ability to not only answer complex questions, but also to engage in conversation about seemingly any topic. The initial question of “What is ChatGPT useful for?” was answered quickly and decisively, with reports of it writing SEO-friendly blog posts, designing web sites from crude hand-drawn notes, or even passing the Bar Exam. Should the question now be “What isn’t ChatGPT useful for?” or is it merely a stochastic parrot as Timnit Gebru – advocate for Ethics and Diversity in AI – warned when writing about large AI language models such as the one ChatGPT is based upon?

We looked at the potential benefits and associated challenges with using ChatGPT for addiction recovery. Let’s get the punchline out of the way right from the start. No, current AI models are absolutely not a substitute for professional help. But our experience suggests that ChatGPT and similar technology can be a valuable tool when used in conjunction with traditional approaches, and at the limit could be.a game-changer for helping people recognize they have a problem and assist them on the path to recovery.

What can ChatGPT possibly know about Recovery?

Quite a lot, it turns out. AI models like ChatGPT are trained on vast amounts of data sourced from the Internet. Unsurprisingly, the Internet has quite a lot of content about drug and alcohol addition. Like anything on the web, some of that information is authoritative and written by professionals whereas others are personal accounts of what worked for individuals and some is pure speculation. Our first goal was to determine how it distilled the various information it was trained on.

We asked what is arguably one of the first questions someone would have about addiction: Do I have a problem? We asked the question “How can I tell if I’m an alcoholic?” and here is the response ChatGTP generated:

ChatGPT response to “How can I tell if I’m an alcoholic?”

It’s hard to find fault in this response. It hits many of the issues those of us who suffer from alcoholism encounter during the progression of addiction: the onset of withdrawal symptoms, isolation and avoiding other activities, compulsion to drink, etc. Even the structure of the response builds from the early hints of.a potential problem (drinking to cope with stress) to the more life-impacting behaviors of later-stage addiction.

But the most striking aspect of this chat interaction is not the response itself, but rather the fact that some individuals are more comfortable asking this question of a computer than a professional therapist. In 2014 a team of scientists from USC’s Institute for Creative Technologies conducted a study of 200 participants. Half of the participants were told they were going to be interacting with a computer program named Ellie rather than a human mental health professional and the others were not. As reported in OBSERVER:

The half that knew that Ellie was just a machine were more likely to betray signs of sadness, and scored twice as high on willingness to disclose personal information.

Whether participants were afraid of being judged by another person or were simply more comfortable confiding in a computer, the simple possibility that interacting with an AI may remove roadblocks to getting help is significant.

In follow-up questions, ChatGPT gave equally solid middle-of-the-road answers to questions about stopping Fentanyl, always stating that seeking professional help was critical.

ChatGPT limitations to finding local recovery assistance

Following up on the ChatGPT’s suggestion to find a local support group or meeting, we asked how to find one. Although trained on Internet content, ChatGPT out-of-the-box cannot perform a live Internet search to answer such questions, so it’s response – while helpful – was fairly generic:

Update 3/25/2023

OpenAI just announced they are opening up ChatGPT to 3rd-party plugins, as reported by The Verge:

OpenAI is adding support for plug-ins to ChatGPT — an upgrade that massively expands the chatbot’s capabilities and gives it access for the first time to live data from the web.

The ability to access live web data will allow the AI chatbot to recommend specific local resources, web sites, meetings and support groups which will greatly increase the quality of its responses. The technology is evolving in real-time.

ChatGPT wants you to go talk to a human

Peppered within its responses about how to get help is a fairly consistent recommendation to get human support. In addition to recommending seeking assistance from a professional, it also frequently mentions finding support groups, building up a social support network, etc. For those of us in recovery, this rings very true. Support networks like Alcoholics Anonymous or other alternatives have proven to be hugely beneficial to our recovery, providing peer support and accountability that is critical particularly in early recovery.

Maybe the future of recovery will be a hybrid of existing methods augmented by AI – a Cyborg model of recovery blending human empathy and shared experience with the accessible factual expertise of computers. ChatGPT has at minimum demonstrated that it can point a potential addict in the right direction to get help, with existing treatment modalities carrying the flag from there.

Augmented Intelligence for the Recovery Industry

We believe AI has a lot more to offer recovering addicts in the near future. Our team and others are looking at AI as a powerful tool for aftercare, developing neural networks to predict relapse based on behavior and monitor ongoing physical and mental health in recovery. In this way AI serves as a tool to augment the expertise of professionals and assist the addict themselves. Rather than displace therapists, counselors and peers groups, AI is best viewed as a non-judgemental assistant that can help guide and motivate recovering alcoholics and addicts. And we can use all the help we can get.

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