NCRG Conference on Gambling and Addiction

Monday, November 17, 2008

High-Tech Solutions for Assessment and Counseling: Web-Based Intervention Programs

Reid K. Hester, Ph.D., director of the research division at Behavior Therapy Associates, began his breakout session, High-Tech Solutions for Assessment and Counseling, by discussing the concept of self-motivation.

Hester said that a high percentage of people with impulse disorders – such as alcohol, drug or gambling addictions – will never seek professional treatment. He explained that many people, particularly those with less-severe impulse disorders, can recover from these conditions by self-correcting their behavior. Hester briefly reviewed research on the challenges and benefits of self-recovery for problem gamblers.

Through his work at Behavior Therapy Associates, Hester is finding ways to reach out to individuals working to recover naturally from alcohol-use disorders. He has developed several Web-based intervention programs for people trying to moderate their drinking. Hester focused today on Drinker’s Check-Up, a Web site that helps people with alcohol addiction understand their behaviors and decide whether to change them. The site provides users with confidential screenings, individualized feedback and motivational enhancement exercises. Since the psychology of pathological gambling and alcohol addiction are very similar, Hester explained, Drinker’s Check-Up can serve as a template for comparable programs for problem gamblers.

Hester recently conducted a clinical trial to determine the effectiveness of Drinker’s Check-Up, and he found that most users had positive experiences with the program. The average number of drinks consumed by Drinker’s Check-Up users decreased after they completed the program. Overall dependence on alcohol among users also decreased. Interestingly, Hester also found that drinkers who wish to change their behavior tended to do so immediately, rather than waiting to do so.

In testing the program, Hester learned several important lessons about creating Web-based intervention programs, which he shared during today’s session. First, he found that program participants were very nervous about enrolling; they tended to be afraid of what they might learn about themselves. He said it was important for an intervention Web site to have a nonjudgmental tone. He added that it was critical for a site to include simple, easy-to-understand language that would not intimidate users.

Hester also is involved with several other Web-based intervention programs, including College Drinker’s Check-Up Web site; SMART Recovery, a site that connects people to self-help programs; and Moderation Management, a site about the benefits and risks of drinking in moderation.


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