Online alcohol prevention programs have become an increasingly popular alternative to more expensive face-to-face approaches. One reason for the popularity is practicality: Computer-delivered programs allow students to receive prevention messages in a private, convenient setting, while maintaining the fidelity of an evidence-based intervention approach.
Another reason for their popularity is the evidence that they can reduce drinking as effectively as face-to-face approaches. A recent review of 35 research trials found that computer-delivered programs reduced drinking significantly more than no-treatment groups, and that their average effect was comparable to face-to-face programs.
Perhaps the most well studied online program, the e-CHECKUP TO GO, has been tested in 12 independent research trials at 6 universities. Drawing from motivational interviewing  and social norms  approaches, the e-CHECKUP TO GO uses a customized drinking profile about alcohol consumption and related risk factors to reduce drinking. The e-CHECKUP TO GO has been tested both as a stand-alone intervention as well as an adjunct to more comprehensive programs such as Alcohol-Wise and Under the Influence. When examined at the population level (e.g., with all incoming freshman), seven studies have shown that the program decreases drinking over a comparison condition. For instance, in a study at Boise State University, first year students who received the program in a freshman seminar course reported significant reductions in drinking, drunkenness and drinking-related problems. In another study, “high-risk” freshman who received the program reported a 58% decrease in peak drinking compared to an 11% increase in drinking among students who did not receive the program. Three additional studies have shown that the program can improve the effectiveness of existing alcohol prevention efforts. For example, at San Diego State University, when the program was added to a more lengthy computer or workbook format, students reported less drinking than when they received the computer or workbook programs alone.
Two other programs that have received research attention include Under the Influence (targeted at primary prevention) and Alcohol-Wise (targeted at secondary prevention). Both programs deliver a range of information and prevention messages to help students make healthy choices about alcohol. Both programs integrate e-CHECKUP TO GO feedback as students navigate through the program. Two studies have found that these programs are as effective as more lengthy face-to-face approaches. For instance, one study at the University of Arizona compared Under the Influence to a 3 session group alcohol prevention course.  After three months, both programs reduced drinking and negative consequences, and increased protective behaviors. In addition to positive changes in drinking, there is also evidence that these programs can improve academic success. First-year students at Western Illinois University were randomized to Alcohol-Wise, a face-to-face program, or a control condition. One semester after participating in the programs, students in the Alcohol-Wise and face-to-face conditions were more likely to be enrolled in school than those in the control group. In fact, students in the Alcohol-Wise group maintained a GPA that was nearly a half-point higher than students in the control condition.
In summary, the research evidence suggests that online alcohol prevention programs can effectively reduce drinking and improve quality of life for college students. Because of their relative low cost, convenience, and empirical evidence, many colleges have found that online intervention programs are a cost effective way to deliver prevention and intervention programming to large numbers of students.
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