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Internet Program Helps Problem Drinkers

TUESDAY, May 12 --A new Dutch study finds that the Internet may be able to help problem drinkers change their bad habits.

About 19 percent of Netherlands residents who used a special interactive self-help Web site over six months to deal with their excessive alcohol consumption said they lowered their weekly drinking to what was considered more "low-risk" levels, a survey found.

The free Web site, called Drinking Less (, allowed users to anonymously seek guidance and motivation to help curb their drinking at any time of the day from any place with a Internet access. The study's researchers said they believed such online intervention could work in most countries and be especially helpful in reaching the more than 80 percent of problem drinkers who never seek any help for their condition.

"While Web-based and digital interventions might not be effective for everyone, almost 20 percent of our participants were able to change their problem drinking to low-risk, while others became aware of their problems and were more willing to seek professional guidance," the study's corresponding author, senior scientist Heleen Riper of the Trimbos Institute and the Vrije Universiteit in the Netherlands, said in a Trimbos news release. "Our study also indicated that Web-based treatment like this is effective for people with different educational backgrounds."

The Drinking Less Web site included "motivational, cognitive-behavioral and self-control information and exercises," Riper said. "It helps problem drinkers decide if they really want to change their problem drinking and, if so, helps them set realistic goals for achieving a change in their drinking behavior, providing tools and exercises to maintain these changes, or deal with relapse if it occurs."

She said she thought such online help could be helpful as a standalone intervention, as a first step to more comprehensive treatment, or as a complementary therapy. She noted that use of the Web site was the first time 84 percent of the participants had used any professional help for their drinking.

The online survey of 378 of the 1,625 people who used the Drinking Less Web site for six months in 2007 found that nearly a fifth had cut down their alcohol consumption to what was defined as "low risk." For Americans, that would be considered no more than 14 drinks a week and no more than five in a row for men; for women, no more than 10 drinks per week and no more than three in a row.

The findings were published online Tuesday and are expected to be in the August issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has more about alcohol abuse.

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Posted: May 2009