Heavy drinking is responsible for major health and social problems. Brief interventions have been shown to be effective, but there have been difficulties in reaching those who might benefit from them. Pilot studies have indicated that a Web-based intervention is likely to be acceptable to heavy drinkers and may produce some health benefits. However, there are few data on how many people might use such a program, the patterns of use, and potential benefits.
The aim was to examine the demographic characteristics of users of a free, Web-based, 6-week intervention for heavy drinkers and to describe the methods by which users identified the site, the pattern of site use and attrition, the characteristics associated with completing the program, and the self-reported impact on alcohol-related outcomes.
Cohort study. Visitors to the Web site were offered screening with the Fast Alcohol Screening Test, and those scoring above the cutoff for risky drinking were invited to register with the program. Demographic information was collected routinely at registration, and questionnaires were completed at the end of weeks 1 and 6. The outcome measures assessed dependency (Short Alcohol Dependency Data Questionnaire), harms (modified Alcohol Problems Questionnaire), and mental health (Clinical Outcomes in Routine Evaluation–Outcome Measure).
The records of 10000 users were analyzed. The mean age was 37.4 years, 51.1% were female, 37.5% were single, and 42.4% lived with children. The majority were White British, lived in the United Kingdom, and reported occupations from the higher socioeconomic strata. Over 70% connected to the Down Your Drink (Down Your Drink) site from another Internet-based resource, whereas only 5.8% heard about the site from a health or other professional. Much of the Web site use (40%) was outside normal working hours. Attrition from the program was high, with only 16.5% of registrants completing the whole 6 weeks. For those who completed the program, and the final outcome measures, measures of dependency, alcohol-related problems, and mental health symptoms were all reduced at week 6.
The Web-based intervention was highly used, and those who stayed with the program showed significant reductions in self-reported indicators of dependency, alcohol-related problems, and mental health symptoms; however, this association cannot be assumed to be causal. Programs of this type may have the potential to reach large numbers of heavy drinkers who might not otherwise seek help. There are significant methodological challenges and further research is needed to fully evaluate such interventions.
Keywords: Alcohol, drinking, health promotion, Internet