Are Computerized Brief Interventions Effective for Curbing Drug Use?

Are Computerized Brief Interventions Effective for Curbing Drug Use?

Are Computerized Brief Interventions Effective for Curbing Drug Use?

Are Computerized Brief Interventions Effective for Curbing Drug Use?Brief intervention is the term for a short, health professional-led session designed to inform a person about the risks of substance use and help curb involvement in dangerous or potentially dangerous patterns of drug or alcohol intake. Typically, brief interventions are performed in person; however, not all health professionals have the time or budget to devote to such face-to-face interactions. In a study published in July 2014 in the journal Addiction, researchers from four U.S. institutions sought to determine if interventions conducted through a computer program provide the same benefits as brief interventions conducted in-person by qualified personnel. 

Brief Interventions

Technically speaking, brief interventions don’t qualify as a form of substance treatment, the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports. Instead, their intent is to increase awareness of involvement in a damaging pattern of substance use, increase understanding of the potential consequences of such a pattern of intake and increase the baseline level of motivation a person has to seek appropriate help for substance-related issues. Some people who receive drug or alcohol interventions already have symptoms that qualify them for an official diagnosis of substance use disorder (substance abuse and/or substance addiction). Others, however, are only at-risk for eventually developing symptoms that would merit such a diagnosis.

As the name indicates, brief interventions are not meant to take extended amounts of time from a client’s/patient’s day. At a minimum, an effective intervention can last for as little as five minutes, while the longest interventions don’t usually exceed half an hour. Professionals who conduct face-to-face interventions must have adequate training in order to achieve effective results. Such training typically includes instruction in either or both of two forms of therapy called motivational interviewing and cognitive behavioral therapy.

Proven Effectiveness

Researchers and addiction specialists refer to brief interventions as evidence-based techniques. This means that, unlike some treatment or prevention approaches without a proven track record, such interventions have been shown to produce positive results in controlled, strictly monitored testing conditions. Demonstrated benefits of in-person brief interventions include the encouragement of a less-favorable attitude toward drug or alcohol consumption, a decline in the preexisting positive expectations for drug or alcohol intake, decreasing levels of alcohol or drug intake in at-risk populations and a decreased level of exposure to abuse/addiction or other serious harms associated with substance use.

Computerized Interventions for Drug Use

In the study published in Addiction, researchers from Wayne State University, the University of Maryland and two other U.S. institutions used a two-part project to compare the effectiveness of in-person behavioral interventions to interventions that provide equivalent forms of information through a computer program. This second form of intervention requires no direct involvement by a health professional, and therefore may produce considerable savings in both time and available resources. A total of 360 adults seeking some sort of health advice or treatment from their primary doctors took part in the study. All patricipants had moderate risks for diagnosable drug-related problems as revealed by a commonly used tool called the Alcohol, Smoking and Substance Involvement Screening Test, or ASSIST. Half of the study participants received a traditional, face-to-face intervention addressing their substance use, while the other half received a computer-based intervention. Three months later, the people in both groups re-took the ASSIST test and also submitted hair samples as verification of their level of participation in drug use.

When the researchers compared the results of the three-month follow-ups in the two groups, they found that the participants who received a brief intervention on a computer did not have significantly different overall ASSIST scores than those who received a face-to-face brief intervention. In addition, when they looked at the results for specific drugs on the ASSIST tests, they found that the people who received a computer-based brief intervention actually had substantially lower risks for problems related to two drugs—cocaine and marijuana—than their counterparts who received an in-person intervention. The researchers also found that the participants who received a computer intervention did not have significantly higher chances of testing positive for drug use than the participants who received a face-to-face intervention. Based on their findings, the study’s authors believe that computer-based brief interventions can work as beneficial substitutes for in-person interventions, at least in people who have moderate drug-related risks before receiving such an intervention.

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