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University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign researchers have embarked on a mission to combat drug and substance abuse through a new app known Harbor, which is currently in its development stage.

The app is a tool that teenagers and young adults can use to learn how to talk to their peers with drug and alcohol abuse habits especially when they are concerned that those habits are getting out of hand. The app will impart important knowledge to young adults on how to be first responders to their friends before things get out of hand.

Dr. Douglas C. Smith, a social work professor and the lead developer for the app focuses his research on interventions for young individuals who engage in substance abuse. The professor noted that alcohol and substance abuse are prevalent especially among young people, and they are also the demography that is least likely to seek treatment.

“If you’re an individual who gets referred to treatment, or who is in need of treatment, it’s pretty likely that people in your social network are worried about you,” stated Dr. Smith.

The app targets young adults between 18 and 29 years old because they are in the demography that has shown the highest prevalence for drug abuse and heavy alcohol consumption. They are also the people that are the most likely to convince their friends to seek help when the habit gets out of control. Unfortunately, most of the young adults who have friends with an addiction problem do not know how to help them or even approach them. This is where the harbor app comes in.

How does the app work?

The app is designed to provide vital insights on how to approach their friends who are getting lost in the rabbit hole of drug abuse. This includes what to say and how to handle the subject without appearing confrontational. The app requires the user to provide various details about their friends, particularly their substance use behavior.

The information is used to gauge the seriousness of the situation, thus helping to formulate the ideal approach. The app also generates messages that the user can then send to the friend they are concerned about. Young adults are usually hesitant to seek help but researchers believe that a peer model will yield better results.