Technology-Delivered Cognitive-Behavioral Interventions for Alcohol Use: A Meta-Analysis

Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2019 Nov;43(11):2285-2295. doi: 10.1111/acer.14189. Epub 2019 Sep 30.


Background: Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) has long-standing evidence for efficacy in the treatment of alcohol use, yet implementation in clinical practice has been challenging. Delivery of CBT through technology-based platforms, such as web-based programs and mobile applications, has the potential to provide widespread access to this evidence-based intervention. While there have been reviews indicating the efficacy of technology-based delivery of CBT for various psychiatric conditions, none have focused on efficacy for alcohol use. The current meta-analysis was conducted to fill this research gap.

Methods: Descriptive data were used to characterize the nature of the literature on technology-delivered, CBT-based interventions for alcohol use ("CBT Tech"). Inverse-variance-weighted effect sizes were calculated, and random effects, effect sizes were pooled in 4 subgroups.

Results: Fifteen published trials conducted primarily with at-risk or heavy drinkers were identified. Of these studies, 60% explicitly targeted alcohol use moderation. The content of CBT Tech programs varied, ranging from 4 to 62 sessions/exercises, with many programs combining elements of motivational interviewing (47%). With respect to efficacy, CBT Tech as a stand-alone treatment in contrast to a minimal treatment control showed a positive and statistically significant, albeit small effect (g = 0.20: 95% CI = 0.22, 0.38, kes = 5). When CBT Tech was compared to treatment as usual (TAU), effects were nonsignificant. However, when CBT Tech was tested as an addition to TAU, in contrast to TAU only, the effect size was positive, significant (g = 0.30: 95% CI = 0.10, 0.50, kes = 7), and stable over 12-month follow-up. Only 2 studies compared CBT Tech to in-person CBT, and this pooled effect size did not suggest superior efficacy.

Conclusions: These results show a benefit for technology-delivered, CBT-based interventions as a stand-alone therapy for heavy drinking or as an addition to usual care in specialty substance use settings.

Keywords: Alcohol Treatment; Cognitive-Behavioral; Computer-Based Treatment; Meta-Analysis; Technology-Based Treatment.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcoholism / therapy*
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy / methods*
  • Humans
  • Therapy, Computer-Assisted / methods*