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Could the Internet Help Curb Problem Drinking?

Posted in Alcohol Abuse

Since the days of prohibition, and long before, people have been looking for a way to prevent alcohol abuse. Most treatments focus on helping the person addicted to alcohol after he/she has been drinking so long that their personal and professional life has become a shambles and they realize they need outside help. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to help people before their drinking problem became ruinous? What if it were possible to harness the power of the Internet to help prevent alcohol abuse? Researchers in Britain wondered that very thing and it got them to digging.

What Defines Alcohol Abuse

First off, many probably don’t even recognize how problem drinking is defined. The United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines heavy drinking in the following way:

  • More than two drinks in one day for a male
  • More than one drink in a day for a female

By this definition, more people are engaging in heavy drinking than may suspect it. In fact, estimates are that more than 17.5 million Americans abuse alcohol. That is a staggering number. It is a number made even more tragic when one considers how few ever seek help to combat their addiction/abuse of alcohol. Not to mention how that abuse affects families, marriages, and job performance.

British Researchers Dig for Data on Computer Interventions

A team of British researchers concerned that early interventions were lacking in the fight against alcohol abuse, started sifting through all kinds of previous studies to find out whether any efforts had been made to use the Internet as an alcoholism prevention. They found a number of studies which had been conducted in various spots around the globe and the results appear to have been just as far flung.

They discovered 24 prior studies which varied widely in size, scope and approach. Some studies merely presented health information while others engaged users through interactive games or videos which had a strong health message. Of the 24 studies they looked at, only 16 appeared to have any measurably positive results.

Small Reduction-Huge Potential

Those 16 computer-based studies seem to have reduced alcohol consumption by the equivalent of two beers per week. This doesn’t represent a significant reduction. However, when one considers that Internet use is widely available throughout the world, it is relatively inexpensive, offers users convenience and privacy and is more likely to be accessed than would be one-on-one counseling services, the potential is attractive.

If a drinking problem is identified early on, the person’s physician can be very helpful in providing the type of intervention which can keep the problem from growing. The trouble with alcohol abuse, is that so often it goes undetected until minor interventions no longer prove efficacious. The types of computer programs investigated in the British study could potentially provide interventions before the abuse becomes ingrained. The British team warns that the study results they examined could have been skewed to look more effective than they actually were and that more research is needed to determine just how useful the Internet may be in curbing alcohol abuse.