Reducing drinking in university students: web-based screening and intervention may be helpful

Reducing drinking in university students: web-based screening and intervention may be helpful

A report in the September issue of Archives of Internal Medicine (one of the JAMA/Archives journals) shows that web-based screening and personalized interventions for alcohol use may reduce drinking in undergraduate students.

In many countries, unhealthy alcohol use is becoming more common among young adults. The authors write: "Young people at university have a particularly high prevalence of unhealthy alcohol use and have been found to drink more heavily and to exhibit more clinically significant alcohol-related problems than their non-student peers."

Kypros Kypri, Ph.D., of the University of Newcastle, Callaghan, New South Wales, Australia and the University of Otago, New Zealand, and colleagues studied 7,237 undergraduate university students in Australia, aged from 17 to 24. They all had taken the 2007 Web-based Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test. The test consisted of an online questionnaire covering items such as:

• demographics

• drinking behavior in the last year

• largest number of drinks consumed on one occasion within the last four weeks

• duration of drinking episode

• secondhand effects such as being pushed, hit or assaulted

• opinions on alcohol beverage labeling

• smoking history

• height and weight

Participants who scored in the hazardous/harmful drinking range were placed in either a Web-based intervention group, which received motivational assessments and personalized feedback or a control group, which received no feedback. The personalized motivational interventions included information about reducing the related health risk, an estimated blood alcohol concentration for the respondent's heaviest episode, monetary expenditure, comparison to other students' drinking. It also incorporated hyperlinks to smoking cessation and help with drinking problems. Follow-ups were conducted one and six months after screening.

In total, 2,435 participants scored in the hazardous/harmful drinking range. Of these, 1,251 were selected at random and included in the Web-based motivational feedback group. The remaining 1,184 were assigned to the control group. The authors write: "After one month, participants receiving intervention drank less often, smaller quantities per occasion and less alcohol overall than did controls. Differences in alcohol-related harms were nonsignificant. At six months, intervention effects persisted for drinking frequency and overall volume but not for other variables."

"Given the scale on which proactive Web-based electronic screening and brief intervention (e-SBI) can be delivered and its acceptability to student drinkers, we can be optimistic that a widespread application of this intervention would produce a benefit in this population group," the authors write in conclusion. "The e-SBI, a program that is available free for nonprofit purposes, could be extended to other settings, including high schools, general practices and hospitals."

Arch Intern Med. 2009; 169[16]:1508-1514.

Archives of Internal Medicine


Section Issues On Medicine: Psychiatry