There is a growing trend for individuals to seek health information from online sources. Alcohol and other drug (AOD) use is a significant health problem worldwide, but access and use of AOD websites is poorly understood.
To investigate content and functionality preferences for AOD and other health websites.
An anonymous online survey examined general Internet and AOD-specific usage and search behaviors, valued features of AOD and health-related websites (general and interactive website features), indicators of website trustworthiness, valued AOD website tools or functions, and treatment modality preferences.
Surveys were obtained from 1214 drug (n = 766) and alcohol website users (n = 448) (mean age 26.2 years, range 16-70). There were no significant differences between alcohol and drug groups on demographic variables, Internet usage, indicators of website trustworthiness, or on preferences for AOD website functionality. A robust website design/navigation, open access, and validated content provision were highly valued by both groups. While attractiveness and pictures or graphics were also valued, high-cost features (videos, animations, games) were minority preferences. Almost half of respondents in both groups were unable to readily access the information they sought. Alcohol website users placed greater importance on several AOD website tools and functions than did those accessing other drug websites: online screening tools (χ²2 = 15.8, P < .001, n = 985); prevention programs (χ²2 = 27.5, P < .001, n = 981); tracking functions (χ²2 = 11.5, P = .003, n = 983); self help treatment programs (χ²2 = 8.3, P = .02, n = 984); downloadable fact sheets for friends (χ²2 = 11.6, P = .003, n = 981); or family (χ²2 = 12.7, P = .002, n = 983). The most preferred online treatment option for both the user groups was an Internet site with email therapist support. Explorations of demographic differences were also performed. While gender did not affect survey responses, younger respondents were more likely to value interactive and social networking features, whereas downloading of credible information was most highly valued by older respondents.
Significant deficiencies in the provision of accessible information on AOD websites were identified, an important problem since information seeking was the most common reason for accessing these websites, and, therefore, may be a key avenue for engaging website users in behaviour change. The few differences between AOD website users suggested that both types of websites may have similar features, although alcohol website users may more readily be engaged in screening, prevention and self-help programs, tracking change, and may value fact sheets more highly. While the sociodemographic differences require replication and clarification, these differences support the notion that the design and features of AOD websites should target specific audiences to have maximal impact.