Web-based programs are proving to be an innovative and powerful adjunct to addiction treatment, according to an expert on internet treatment strategies. However, they are not meant to replace face-to-face addiction treatment, notes Paul Radkowski, CEO/Clinical Director at Life Recovery Program in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.
Internet addiction programs range from web-based education interventions, to self-guided web-based therapeutic programs, to human-supported web-based therapies, Radkowski explained at the recent annual meeting of the International Certification & Reciprocity Consortium (IC&RC).
“Addiction is a 24/7 issue, and requires 24/7 solutions. Internet programs can help address that need. They are not meant to replace face-to-face modalities, which provide support and accountability, but can supplement them,” Radkowski said.
While research on online programs for addiction treatment is still in a relatively early stage, some studies have suggested it is a promising area, he states. One study of computer-delivered interventions for alcohol and tobacco use concluded that computer-delivered treatments that can be accessed via the Internet may represent a cost-effective means of treating uncomplicated substance use and related problems. Another study of a brief personalized Internet-based program for problem drinkers found it reduced alcohol consumption for about six months.
Online programs can be especially helpful for people waiting for treatment slots in publicly funded programs, he noted. “With increasing budget cuts in Canada as well as the U.S., the supply for traditional forms of treatment is decreasing, while the demand is increasing,” he said. “Online programs are a way to get people started while they wait for traditional treatment.” Internet programs can be very helpful to people living in rural areas, who do not have easy access to in-person treatment.
They also can be appealing to some people who don’t seek face-to-face treatment because of the stigma of having a substance use disorder.
A growing number of treatment programs are using online components as part of aftercare, either through support groups or online contact with counselors, Radkowski noted.
One obvious appeal of online programs is their lower cost compared with face-to-face programs, he said. “Of course, for someone not medically stable, or with complicated issues, more intensive in-person treatment is needed.”
An additional benefit of Internet programs is that a person can review information repeatedly online, whenever they feel they need it, Radkowski pointed out. “When someone is struggling in the dark hours of the night, and doesn’t know what to do, they can go online, and it helps them self-regulate.”
The online program at Radkowski’s agency, the Life Recovery Program, includes a series of modules released every two weeks, along with behavioral contracts and peer support forums. “We took what worked with us on the front line, and put it online,” he said.