Effects of an automated digital brief prevention intervention targeting adolescents and young adults with risky alcohol and other substance use: study protocol for a randomised controlled trial

BMJ Open. 2020 May 12;10(5):e034894. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2019-034894.


Introduction: Adolescence and young adulthood is a period in life when individuals may be especially vulnerable to harmful substance use. Several critical developmental processes are occurring in the brain, and substance use poses both short-term and long-term risks with regard to mental health and social development. From a public health perspective, it is important to prevent or delay substance use to reduce individual risk and societal costs. Given the scarcity of effective interventions targeting substance use among adolescents and young adults, cost-effective and easily disseminated interventions are warranted. The current study will test the effectiveness of a fully automated digital brief intervention aimed at reducing alcohol and other substance use in adolescents and young adults aged 15 to 25 years.

Methods and analysis: A two-arm, double-blind, randomised controlled trial design is applied to assess the effectiveness of the intervention. Baseline assessment, as well as 3-month and 6-month follow-up, will be carried out. The aim is to include 800 participants with risky substance use based on the screening tool CRAFFT (Car,Relax, Alone, Forget, Friends, Trouble). Recruitment, informed consent, randomisation, intervention and follow-up will be implemented online. The primary outcome is reduction in alcohol use, measured by Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test total score. Secondary outcomes concern binge drinking, frequency of alcohol consumption, amount of alcohol consumed a typical day when alcohol is consumed, average daily drinks per typical week, other substance use, mental health, sexual risk behaviours and perceived peer pressure. Moreover, the study involves analyses of potential moderators including perfectionism, openness to parents, help-seeking and background variables.

Ethics and dissemination: The study was approved by the Swedish Ethical Review Authority (no. 2019-03249). The trial is expected to expand the knowledge on digital preventive interventions for substance using adolescents and young adults. Results will be disseminated in research journals, at conferences and via the media.

Trial registration number: 24 September 2019, ISRCTN91048246; Pre-results.

Keywords: child & adolescent psychiatry; preventive medicine; psychiatry; substance misuse.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking / prevention & control*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Crisis Intervention / economics
  • Crisis Intervention / methods*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mass Screening / methods
  • Mental Health / standards
  • Peer Influence
  • Perception
  • Sexual Behavior / statistics & numerical data
  • Substance-Related Disorders / prevention & control*
  • Sweden / epidemiology
  • Young Adult