Web-based self-help programs that reduce problematic substance use are able to reach hidden consumer groups in the general population. These programs are characterized by their low treatment threshold and nonrestrictive intervention settings. They are also cost effective, making them of interest to both low-income and high-income industrialized countries with ever-increasing health costs.
To test the feasibility and effectiveness of an anonymous, fully automated, Web-based self-help intervention as an alternative to outpatient treatment services for cocaine users.
A total of 196 cocaine-using participants were recruited through various online and offline media for a randomized controlled trial. Participants in the intervention group received interactive cognitive behavioral modules and a consumption diary to reduce cocaine use, whereas participants in the control group received online psychoeducative information modules. Web-based follow-up assessments were conducted after 4 weeks, 6 weeks, and 6 months. Treatment retention was examined and compared between the intervention and control groups. Severity of cocaine dependence was the main outcome measure. Secondary outcomes were cocaine craving, depression symptoms, and alcohol and other substance use.
This Web-based intervention attracted older and more educated participants than existing outpatient treatment programs for which cocaine is the primary substance of abuse. Participants in the intervention group showed greater treatment retention compared with the control group (P = .04). Low response rates at the follow-up assessments restricted the explanatory power of the analyses. At the follow-up assessments, the severity of cocaine dependence did not differ between the intervention and control groups (P = .75). Furthermore, there were no differences in cocaine craving, depression, or alcohol and other substance use. Using the consumption diaries, the average number of cocaine-free days per week did not change significantly, whereas the weekly quantity of cocaine used decreased equally in both groups (P = .009).
For cocaine users with low dependence severity, a fully automated Web-based cognitive behavioral self-help intervention is a feasible alternative with limited effectiveness in outpatient treatment services. However, this type of intervention may attract specific user groups that are rarely reached by existing outpatient treatment and may help them to control their cocaine consumption anonymously.
ISRCTN93702927; http://www.controlled-trials.com/ISRCTN93702927 (Archived by WebCite at http://www.webcitation.org/6CTMM10MR)
Keywords: Cocaine, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Internet, Randomized Controlled Trial