Study Finds Electronic Programs Don't Reduce Drinking In Long-Term

By McCarton Ackerman 08/07/15

Think that new app can help moderate your drinking? Think again.

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An increasing number of online and computer applications have been sprouting up to help problem drinkers curb their consumption, but a new study has found these electronic programs do little to reduce drinking over a long-term period.

The findings, published in the latest issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine, looked at 28 previous studies on electronic programs designed to reduce drinking. These programs included CD-ROM discs, desktop computers in clinics, mobile applications, and interactive voice response on both the phone and computer.

Most were one-time interventions in which the user entered information about their drinking and received data on how that compared with their peer group. But others were more comprehensive in providing goal-setting capabilities and information on the dangers of problem drinking.

Researchers at the Duke University School of Medicine concluded that these programs could contribute to small reductions in alcohol consumption for a period of up to six months, but were not helpful for long-term lifestyle changes.

“These data suggest that stronger electronic interventions, possibly including interventions from a live human being, may be necessary to attain more meaningful improvements in drinking behavior,” said Dr. James Garbutt, a professor of psychiatry from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill in an interview with HealthDay. However, lead study researcher Eric Dedert of Duke University said he still believes that “electronic interventions for alcohol misuse hold significant promise.”

Other recent studies have also recorded similar findings. A 2013 analysis of a web-based brief alcohol intervention geared towards heavily drinking students called “What Do You Drink” found that certain subgroups might lower their consumption in the short term, but it was not effective in stopping or slowing consumption among heavy drinking students as soon as one month after the intervention.

However, other online programs have had success in treating the underlying issues that may contribute to alcohol abuse. In 2011, online addiction recovery company Lionrock Recovery began offering free treatment to military veterans to help address their PTSD. Through secure video conferencing, participants received nine hours of treatment each week for up to three months.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.