Academic journal article Alcohol Research

The Use of Emerging Technologies in Alcohol Treatment

Academic journal article Alcohol Research

The Use of Emerging Technologies in Alcohol Treatment

Article excerpt

How can the greatest number of problem drinkers--an intentionally broad term covering the range of drinking behaviors--obtain help given limited health care resources? Emerging technologies such as electronic tools that service providers can use to help problem drinkers may provide a partial answer to this question. This article will outline the rationale for using emerging technologies to help problem drinkers and summarize the types of technologies already being used, along with a review of the research base supporting their use. Some of the technologies mentioned in this article, such as the Internet, are fairly new, whereas others, such as telephones, have been in existence for some time, but all have only recently been applied to the treatment of alcohol problems. Several overviews of this topic already have been published (Bewick et al. 2008; Carey et al. 2009; Hester and Miller 2006; Kypri et al. 2005), and, because the state of technology is moving so rapidly, the intent of this article is not to provide a systematic review of all the research done in this area. Rather, the summary seeks to provide key examples and commentary on what has been done so far in order to stimulate the reader to consider ways that emerging technologies might be incorporated into one's own practice.

Emerging technologies may have several advantages over traditional methods in promoting quality care for problem drinkers. First, they may increase access to evidence-based treatment to a larger number of people. Currently, most people with alcohol problems never seek face-to-face assistance, whether from a specialized treatment agency, from their general practitioner, or even from groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous. Indeed, it is estimated that in Canada and the United States only between 1 in 3 and 1 in 14 people with a drinking problem seek treatment (Burton and Williamson 1995; Cunningham and Breslin 2004; Hasin 1994; Roizen et al. 1978). Common reasons for not seeking treatment include stigma, embarrassment, and a desire to handle problems on their own (Cunningham et al. 1993; Grant 1997; Roizen 1977; Sobell et al. 1992; Tuchfeld 1976). In addition, many people have difficulty accessing treatment, even where there are comprehensive nationwide services, because they live in rural areas, far from any treatment services. Emerging technologies, particularly those delivered over the Internet, have the potential to overcome some of these barriers.

Emerging technologies also may be utilized by segments of the general population traditionally underserved in face-to-face treatment. Specifically, a larger proportion of female and older adults access Internet-based interventions (IBIs) than are typically seen in traditional treatment contexts (Cunningham et al. 2000; Humphreys and Klaw 2001). Taken together, the potential for emerging technologies to supplement standard treatment approaches in a cost efficient fashion, and to promote access to those traditionally underserved by our current treatment options, makes this an exciting area for research and development. Recognizing this potential, much research is currently underway.

DEFINITIONS

Before moving to a review of emerging technologies and their current research base, it is worthwhile to briefly define some terms. First, the vague term "problem drinkers" was intentionally used to cover the range of drinkers from those who experience a few consequences and drink beyond recommended levels to those who could be defined as alcohol dependent. This term is used because many of the studies we review do not clearly define the severity of study participants' drinking problems. It is safe to say that participants in research projects which involve interventions without face-to-face contact generally have less severe problems than patients clinicians typically see in addictions treatment settings (although some will certainly be as severe). An excellent quote by Heather (1989, p. …

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