Internet self-assessments as alcohol treatment

Self-empowering addiction treatment support groups, including SMART Recovery, provide online recovery resources much like the one described in this article.

Might a web-based self-assessment of risky drinking serve as an effective tool for alcohol treatment? Several previous studies suggest that it might. The self-assessment questionnaire at is one example of such a tool. In Finland, a similar self-assessment service known as the Drinking Habit Test (DHT) was launched in 2003. The site provides feedback and normative comparisons to raise awareness about hazardous and harmful alcohol use. Researchers from Finland and Canada carried out a pilot study on the effectiveness of the DHT among Finnish drinkers (Koski-Jannes, Cunningham & Tolonen, 2009).

The DHT includes 110 questions from the AUDIT (Alcohol Use Disorder Identification Test), 6 questions about psychosocial consequences of drinking, and questions about number of drinks consumed on each day of a typical week. Personalized feedback was provided on scores; this feedback included cost and caloric intake of drinking plus time spent under the influence during the past year.

A total of 22,536 anonymous self-assessments from the general population were collected on the web site in 2004 during a 7-month recruitment period. A total of 343 participants were recruited. Participants provided baseline data and were sent follow-up questions at 3, 6, and 12 months after the self-assessment. Main outcome variables in the current study included self-reported use of alcohol as well as drinking-related problems.

At the 3-month follow-up, 78 percent of participants responded; 69 percent responded at 6 months; and 61 percent responded at the 12-month follow-up. Results showed a significant reduction in drinking and drinking-related consequences during the first 3 months following the self-assessment. However, changes after the first 3 months were not significant.

The results of this study suggest that web-based alcohol treatment tools may be helpful for risky drinkers as well as alcohol dependent individuals. The authors report, “This implies that Internet-based self-assessment and feedback may have an effect even among some dependent drinkers. In fact, the consumption of alcohol seemed to initially decrease most in the highest AUDIT score group, but by 12 months their drinking had started to increase again suggesting that this group may need more support to maintain the change.”

Indeed, many individuals in alcohol recovery will need prolonged support. Although the effectiveness of web-based alcohol treatment tools may expire after 3 months, any tool that increases awareness and readiness to change is worthwhile and may lead to other forms of alcohol treatment. Undoubtedly, as Internet use becomes more widespread, future studies will continue to examine the effectiveness of online alcohol treatment tools. In the future, web-based alcohol treatment tools may be the starting point of alcohol recovery for a significant number of individuals.

Currently, AA alternatives present more individualized approaches to addiction treatment one of which includes SMART Recovery. SMART Recovery is a self-empowering addiction support group that offers many options for online recovery tools including online meetings. This online presence supports people in their recovery world-wide and allows people easier access to internet based recovery options. With the wide range of recovery options available, people can now receive the support they need in the comfort of their own homes.

Koski-Jannes A, Cunningham J, Tolonen K. Self-assessment of drinking on the Internet – 3-, 6- and 12-month follow-ups. Alcohol and Alcoholism. 2009; 44(3): 301-305.