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Remote alcoholism therapy: is it possible?

15.11.2019 Author: Psychologist Pavel Khoroshutin
remote alcoholism therapy

This article is about information technologies for the treatment of alcohol addiction.

The World Health Organization has set a goal to reduce alcohol abuse by 2025. In the face of savings in health care costs around the world, the solution must be effective, low-cost and accessible to the general population.

The Tobacco and Alcohol Addiction Research Group at University College London sees the potential value of using digital technology to treat alcoholism and reduce alcohol consumption in general.

According to 2016 data, only 10% of those who applied for help¹ in solving the problem of alcoholism at a serious stage, actually received help. If we look at the task from the point of view of maximum coverage, namely, helping as many people as possible at the lowest cost, modern remote information technologies such as specialized sites and applications for mobile devices seem to be able to come to the rescue.

It should be understood that remote assistance in alcoholism treatment is not a lifesaver. Despite the growing competitive advantages over the traditional medical approach, remote therapy cannot always replace it. We are talking about severe cases of alcoholism, which are accompanied by mental disorders, especially if patients are also taking medications. In such cases, technologies are used both for general screening, detecting addiction and increasing motivation, and as an addition to conventional treatment. Online screenings and tests are extremely effective specifically in terms of reaching a large audience. To register on a site or in an application, it is not necessary to disclose your identity, overcome any inner shame or wait for condemnation by disclosing your address. Anyone who has thought “Am I drinking too much?” can consciously come to the need for treatment using online tools.

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The method of behavior modification is often used in remote alcoholism therapy. For example, the Down Your Drink website (www.downyourdrink.org.uk)² has been successfully operating in the UK for a long time.

Online therapy with self-observation works very well, if such an initiative is encouraged by the attending physician. In the US, referring a family doctor for an online consultation is already becoming an established practice. An individual approach is also important: personalized applications attract more users than general online products.

Remote alcoholism therapy can be challenging due to lack of motivation. If no one controls the process, and the patient lacks self-control, he/she can easily give up what was gained in the first week of therapy. ³ The main thing here is to be aware of the problem and to clearly see the goal. Financial investments can increase motivation. The fear of losing funds invested in treatment prompts the patient to go all the way to achieve a tangible result.

Since remote therapy using information technologies is only developing, the study of the effectiveness of this approach has similarly just recently begun. In 2017, a study by British professor Eileen Keiner was published, which showed that people who received therapy using electronic means (computer programs and mobile applications) consumed an average of 22.8 g of pure alcohol less than those who did not receive therapy.

All is fair in the war against alcoholism. The remote approach is a modern and realistic method which has great potential to reduce alcohol consumption.

1.  Brown, J., West, R., Angus, C., Beard, E., Brennan, A., Drummond, C., . . . Michie, S. (2016). Comparison of brief interventions in primary care on smoking and excessive alcohol consumption: a population survey in England. British Journal of General Practice, 66(642), e1.

2.  Linke, S., McCambridge, J., Khadjesari, Z., Wallace, P., & Murray, E. (2008). Development of a psychologically enhanced interactive online intervention for hazardous drinking. Alcohol Alcohol, 43(6), 669-674. doi: 10.1093/alcalc/agn066

3.  Eysenbach, G. (2005). The Law of Att rition. J Med Internet Res, 7(1), e11. doi: 10.2196/jmir.7.1.e11