The Impact of Cue-Based Nudges on Addiction Recovery: Evidence from a Field Experiment
In 2017 the Department of Health and Human Services declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency, and the cost of substance abuse more generally exceeds $500 billion nationally each year. Among the minority of individuals even treated for substance abuse, between 40% and 60% end up relapsing, indicating that existing treatments are not maximally effective. We propose to evaluate, through a pilot study and, eventually, via a large-scale (400-800 person) randomized controlled trial, a novel intervention aimed at reducing the relapse rate through cue-based nudges. Specifically, we plan to partner with Hey, Charlie, an app designed for individuals in recovery which sends targeted messages to users when entering a self-identified risky environment or when reaching out to risky contacts. Individuals will be assigned to treatment groups that receive different components of the app’s functionality. Consistent with cue-based theories of consumption in the behavioral economics literature, we hypothesize that nudges associated with environmental cues will (1) increase the costs of interacting with high-risk cues, as measured by data collected by the app, and (2) decrease the probability of relapse and improve health, wellbeing, and economic outcomes, collected through both our clinical partner and in-app surveys.