A New Zealand app to help you control your drinking.
What does the app do?
The Step Away: NZ Edition app is aimed at helping New Zealanders reduce the amount of alcohol they drink or to stop drinking alcohol altogether. The app is also designed to help you connect with alcohol-related health services in New Zealand, should you need them.
The app provides you with the tools to help you manage your drinking. You can:
- assess your level of drinking
- set goals to manage your drinking
- use the app's tool to help you reach these goals
- quickly and easily connect with people who are part of your support network
- link to external support networks.
Initially developed in the United States over several years by addiction psychologists, the app was adapted for New Zealand by a team at the University of Auckland.
When you download the app, you may be asked to join a study to assess the impact of the app on alcohol use. Taking part in the study is voluntary. Read more about participation in the study. For the complete app description, go to the app website, App Store or, for a more detailed review, see Reviews.
✔ It uses a motivational enhancement therapy (MET) framework. This is an evidence-based approach that empowers users to make internally motivated change.
✔ Module 1: Drinking profile. There is an assessment on your drinking quantity and frequency, assessment of alcohol dependency (SADQ), drinking consequences (SIP), drinking motives (DMQR) and drinking costs (monetary and caloric). It also gives norm-based feedback (comparison to the average) and visualises the important data in graph form.
✔ Sends an email summary of your drinking profile (only works with the Apple mail app activated, not Gmail or presumably other clients).
✔ Module 2: Facilitative goal setting. It allows you to choose between an abstinence and moderation drinking approach. Guidance is given to aid the goal setting, eg, if moderation is chosen you are told the likelihood of success based on your dependency score.
✔ Module 3: Setting rewards. For example, you are prompted to reward yourself with each daily goal met.
✔ Module 4: Cravings. You are given coping strategies to manage these, such as pleasant activity scheduling, mindfulness and contacting a support person.
✔ Module 5: Behavioural strategies for preventing relapse looking at timing, approach, consumption and communication.
✔ Module 6: Supportive. Emphasises social support and facilitates sending reports to significant others and text alerts during high risk times. Helps you connect with alcohol-related services or people within your own support network.
✔ Module 7: Reminders. You are asked to write down how life will improve with changes to drinking and are advised to create verbal and visual (photos) reminders.
✔ Module 8: High risk times. Alerts you to when a high risk time is approaching (based on previous assessments) and provides alternative activities.
✔ Module 9: Moods. Information on the link between mood and drinking, feedback on current and previous mood levels, and suggestions. Assesses mood with a validated tool (DASS).
✔ Module 10: New activities. Guides you to replace drinking with non-drinking activities. Links to calendar to schedule activities with reminders (only works with Apple calendar, not Google calendar or presumably other calendars).
✘ At the time of review there is no Android app but it is in development and is anticipated to launch soon.
✘ The app advertises “60% reduction in drinking” but does not disclose that this is from unpublished results. Nevertheless there is a pilot study for the US version and the framework is evidence based.
✘ It appears that some of the functionality requires first party Apple apps, such as the mail and calendar features. They don't work with Google versions or presumably others.
✘ No specific Māori/Pasifika content at the time of review due to lack of funding.
Date of review: May 2020
Platform reviewed: Apple
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Reviewer: Health professional, Christchurch, September 2020
Comments: Good idea but limited usefulness. Can track each week but unable to look back at previous weeks to compare or see pattern App asks you to make a goal- goal is daily amount alcohol or no alcohol- no flexibility eg to be abstinent 2 days per week.
Reviewer: Jeremy Steinberg, GP, RNZCGP
Date of review: May 2020
Comments: The original US version of this app was developed over several years and was then picked up by Auckland researchers and adapted for the NZ context. It is built off a motivational enhancement therapy framework which empowers people to make internally motivated change. The app covers 10 modules providing assessment, feedback, monitoring, strategies and more. Results of a pilot study of the US version showed benefit.¹ The US app was then modified with feedback from the pilot study. There are no published data for the NZ version yet. The user can use the app with or without joining the ongoing research study.
I would highly recommend this to those with drinking-related problems who are unwilling or unable to engage with in-person treatment. It could also potentially be used as an adjunct to in-person treatment.
The main drawbacks are the lack of an Android version (Android has almost 60% market share in New Zealand), and the lack of specific Māori/Pacific content.
Safety concerns: No concerns. The application assesses the user’s level of dependency and assesses mood.
New Zealand relevance: Adapted for New Zealand
- Dulin PL, Gonzalez VM, Campbell K. Results of a pilot test of a self administered smartphone-based treatment system for alcohol use disorders: Usability and early outcomes Substance Abuse. 2014;35:168-175.