Internet-based interventions for young people with problematic substance use: a systematic review

Robert J Tait and Helen Christensen
Med J Aust 2010; 192 (11 Suppl): S15.


Objective: To conduct a systematic review of randomised trials of web-based interventions for problematic substance use by adolescents and young adults.

Data sources: An extensive search conducted in February 2009 of computer databases (MEDLINE, PsycINFO, Current Contents) and manual searches of key references.

Study selection: Randomised comparisons of fully automated web-based interventions specifically targeting adolescents and young adults (ie, typically school or tertiary students, ≤ 25 years old) versus other interventions.

Data synthesis: 16 relevant studies were identified, and data were extracted from 13  of the 14 reporting on alcohol use by young adults. The alcohol interventions had a small effect overall (d =  0.22) and for specific outcomes (level of alcohol consumption, d =  0.12; binge or heavy drinking frequency, d =  0.35; alcohol-related social problems, d =  0.57). The interventions were not effective (d = 0.001) in preventing subsequent development of alcohol-related problems among people who were non-drinkers at baseline. Due to methodological differences, data from the two studies reporting on tobacco interventions among adolescents were not combined.

Conclusions: Based on findings largely from tertiary students, web interventions targeting alcohol-related problems have an effect about equivalent to brief in-person interventions, but with the advantage that they can be delivered to a far larger proportion of the target population. Web-based interventions to prevent the development of alcohol-related problems in those who do not currently drink appear to have minimal impact. There are currently insufficient data to assess the effectiveness of web-based interventions for tobacco use by adolescents.

  • Robert J Tait1
  • Helen Christensen2

  • Centre for Mental Health Research, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT.



This research was supported by the Centre for Mental Health Research at the Australian National University.

Competing interests:

None identified.

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