Guided and Unguided Internet-Based Treatment for Problematic Alcohol Use - A Randomized Controlled Pilot Trial

PLoS One. 2016 Jul 6;11(7):e0157817. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0157817. eCollection 2016.


Background: The Internet has increasingly been studied as mode of delivery for interventions targeting problematic alcohol use. Most interventions have been fully automated, but some research suggests that adding counselor guidance may improve alcohol consumption outcomes.

Methods: An eight-module Internet-based self-help program based on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) was tested among Internet help-seekers. Eighty participants with problematic alcohol use according to the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT; scores of ≥ 6 for women and ≥ 8 for men) were recruited online from an open access website and randomized into three different groups. All groups were offered the same self-help program, but participants in two of the three groups received Internet-based counselor guidance in addition to the self-help program. One of the guidance groups was given a choice between guidance via asynchronous text messages or synchronous text-based chat, while the other guidance group received counselor guidance via asynchronous text messages only.

Results: In the choice group, 65% (13 of 20 participants) chose guidance via asynchronous text messages. At the 10-week post-treatment follow-up, an intention-to-treat (ITT) analysis showed that participants in the two guidance groups (choice and messages) reported significantly lower past week alcohol consumption compared to the group without guidance; 10.8 (SD = 12.1) versus 22.6 (SD = 18.4); p = 0.001; Cohen's d = 0.77. Participants in both guidance groups reported significantly lower scores on the AUDIT at follow-up compared to the group without guidance, with a mean score of 14.4 (SD = 5.2) versus 18.2 (SD = 5.9); p = 0.003; Cohen's d = 0.68. A higher proportion of participants in the guidance groups said that they would recommend the program compared to the group without guidance (81% for choice; 93% for messages versus 47% for self-help).

Conclusion: Self-help programs for problematic alcohol use can be more effective in reducing alcohol consumption over a 10-week period when counselor guidance is added.

Trial registration: NCT02384304.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Alcohol Drinking
  • Alcoholism / therapy*
  • Algorithms
  • Automation
  • Choice Behavior
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Health Behavior
  • Humans
  • Intention to Treat Analysis
  • Internet*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pilot Projects
  • Sample Size
  • Self Care
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Text Messaging*
  • Therapy, Computer-Assisted / methods*
  • Young Adult

Associated data


Grants and funding

This study was supported by the Swedish Research Council grant no. K2012-61X-22132-01-6; AFA Insurance grant no. 110248; Swedish FORTE research council, grant no. 2013-1793; the Stockholm Center for Dependency Disorders for technical development; Karolinska Institutet/Center for Psychiatry Research doctoral grant. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.