Management of substance abuse

E-health technologies and substance abuse

Innovative portals on alcohol and health with a web-based self-help intervention tool have been developed with the support by WHO in four pilot countries, Belarus, Brazil, India and Mexico. The portals were launched on December 6, 2012, and provide information not only for policymakers and professionals, but also for the public at large. They include a self-screening tool for hazardous and harmful use of alcohol and a fully computerized self-help programme for people who wish to reduce or stop drinking alcohol.

The WHO e-health project on alcohol and health has been implemented by WHO Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse in collaboration with Trimbos Institute in the Netherlands, and institutes and organizations from Belarus, Brazil, India and Mexico. One of the key results of the project is the development of a generic portal on alcohol and health that can be easily translated into other languages and adapted to different cultures. Developing such a generic portal and making it available to interested organizations and institutions is a part of WHO`s implementation of the WHO Global strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol. The portal provides an overview of relevant information for policymakers and professionals, while the online intervention offers an innovative method of facilitating and supporting self-help strategies for those who want to reduce alcohol consumption or stop drinking.

Online self-help programs for different health conditions and risk factors are emerging in many countries. These programs have many advantages: they are user-friendly, available round the clock, don’t require waiting or travel time, are anonymous and free of cost. Young people, who are traditionally difficult to reach, and women are particularly attracted by help via the internet. Such programs for hazardous and harmful drinking are not a substitute for professional treatment and care, but they allow to reach out to many people with access to internet who risk their health through drinking alcohol and who otherwise may not receive advice on how to reduce alcohol consumption or stop drinking.

There is growing research on the effectiveness of web-based self-help interventions. A meta-analysis showed that, for people with hazardous and harmful use of alcohol, computerized self-help is approximately as effective as a face-to face brief intervention. It is also likely to be cost-effective. Online self-help might be the first part of stepped care and it offers an option when health professionals are scarce. The self-help program developed in the framework of this project is fully computerized and is based on a program developed by Trimbos Institute, which uses techniques from cognitive behavioural therapy and motivational interviewing that have proven efficacy. The content of the self-help intervention is based on existing WHO materials. Further support to the users of the self-help programme is offered via a moderated forum.

The institutes and organizations in the four pilot countries own their portals and have adapted and tailored them to their needs. Following the launch the project will focus on testing the uptake and user-friendliness of the portals and implementing the necessary further adaptations. If evaluation results are positive, the generic portal will be offered to other interested countries for translation, local adaptation and development according to the national contexts. In the future the scope of the portals might extend to other psychoactive substances.

This project received funding from the Government of the Netherlands.

For more information about the project, please contact: msb@who.int

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E-health project portals

Below are the links to the portals in the four pilot countries and the names of the responsible institutes. Please note that provision of links to other sites does not indicate endorsement of those sites by WHO, and WHO accepts no responsibility for the validity or accuracy of their content.

  • Belarus
    Responsible institution: The Information and Training Centre of Belarusian Psychiatric Association at the Republican Mental Health Research and Practice Centre
  • Brazil
    Responsible insititutions: Associação Fundo de Incentivo à Pesquisa, Universidade Federal de Juiz de Fora, Universidade Federal de Sao Paulo and Universidade Federal do Parana
  • India
    Responsible institution: National Drug Dependence Treatment Center (NDDTC) at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences
  • Mexico
    Responsible institution: Insituto Nacional de Psiquiatría Ramón de la Fuente Muñiz
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Video and interviews from the launch

  • Interviews (streaming)
    Here you can see interviews about the portal with Dr Shekhar Saxena and Dr Vladimir Poznyak from the WHO Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse and Dr Jan Walburg, Chief Executive Officer of the Dutch Institute of Mental Health and Addiction.
  • Download the interviews (23MB)