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Addressing the Burden of Addiction in the Service Industry

How might a digital application provide ease of access to treatment and therapy for hard-to-reach populations with a workplace culture that fosters the development of alcohol and drug addictions?


The Psychology Department at Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly Ryerson), together with Renascent, an accredited addiction treatment centre in Toronto, approached PIVOT to collaborate on the development of an evidence-based app prototype to address addiction in workplaces with unique stress factors. Unusual schedules, limited resources, isolation and workplace culture, often in the service industry, create an environment that encourages the development of addiction while also making it difficult to access effective treatment services.

The team had previously identified a lack of adequate, medically-based and validated addiction apps on the market, in particular for drug addictions. To address this gap in workplace addictions treatment, the app could offer workers confidential support any time of the day, in any location, and connect them with a virtual – and sober – social community. It could also potentially be applied to other industries with similar challenges in the future.


Once our primary user personas had been identified, we conducted interviews to gain a deeper understanding of their challenges, motivations, and barriers to treatment. Based on our learnings as well as our clients’ previous research, we collectively decided to shift focus from creating purely an addictions treatment tool to a social app revolving around building a sober community and healthy lifestyle. By avoiding the stigma of addiction, it would be more readily adopted by the targeted population and potentially lead to more meaningful behavioural change. The app would include validated resources on addiction as well as tools to help track and set goals around reducing alcohol and drug use. It would also allow users to join groups to connect with like-minded community members and find local sober activities at critical moments that might trigger use, thus the name Instead.

The PIVOT design team are absolutely amazing to work with! They consistently show up to every meeting with both a wealth of knowledge, a deep curiosity and commitment to partner in the co-design process. In my work with them on two app projects in health care, they used their signature design process, coupled with their desire to authentically understand the issue, to develop a clear and meaningful plan that was built on a genuinely collaborative process. They remain some of my favourite individuals to work with, and I have recommended them to many other academics and social service organizations.”

Adjunct Professor, Department of Psychology