Mobile phone ownership, usage and readiness to use by patients in drug treatment

Drug Alcohol Depend. 2015 Jan 1;146:111-5. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2014.11.001. Epub 2014 Nov 8.


Background: Mobile phone based interventions using text-messages and smartphone apps demonstrate promise for enhancing the treatment of substance use disorders. However, there is limited evidence on the availability of mobile phones among people in substance use treatment, as well as usage patterns, contact preferences and willingness to use phone functions such as geo-location for treatment purposes.

Method: A questionnaire was completed by 398 patients enrolled in four UK community drug treatment services. The majority (74%) reported being in treatment for heroin dependence, 9% for alcohol, 4% prescription drugs, 1% amphetamines, 1% club drugs and 1% cannabis. The remaining reported a combination of different drug categories.

Results: Eighty-three percent of patients reported owning a mobile phone; 57% of phones were smartphones and 72% of clients had a pay-as-you-go contract. Forty-six percent of phone owners changed their number in the previous year. Eighty-six percent were willing to be contacted by their treatment provider via mobile phone, although 46% thought the use of geo-location to be unacceptable.

Conclusion: Mobile phones are widely available among individuals receiving community drug treatment and should be considered as a viable contact method by service providers, particularly text-messaging. However, patients may not have access to sophisticated features such as smartphone apps, and, up to date records of contact numbers must be frequently maintained. Developers need to be sensitive to issues of privacy and invasiveness around geo-location tracking and frequency of contact.

Keywords: Digital divide; Drug treatment; Health; Mobile phone; Text-messaging.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cell Phone / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Ownership*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / therapy*
  • Text Messaging*
  • Therapy, Computer-Assisted / methods*
  • Young Adult