Does Online Counseling for Substance Use Disorders Really Work?


Chat 2 Recovery provides a new medium of support for recovery from alcohol and other drugs

Over the past 15 years, there has been a growing array of research studies showing significant improvement in those individuals treated using online therapy for such problems as depression, anxiety, gambling, eating disorders, and sleep disorders. But what about specifically treating substance use disorders online?

In 2000, John Cunningham, Keith Humphreys, and Anja Kski-Jannes, from Toronto, published an article about providing personalized assessment feedback for problem drinkers using the Internet. What they were actually investigating was whether there was interest in a free evaluation and screening tool. What they found was that their site received approximately 500 hits per month, clearly suggesting that there was interest and viability for such a site.

Similarly in 2001, Richard Cloud and Patricia Peacock developed their own website that provided a confidential screening tool that allowed visitors to review their alcohol use.  In less than 6 months, over 10,000 individuals visited the site and almost 3,000 took the screening.  Since that time, a number of other studies have been conducted that showed the positive benefits of online support for individuals.

A recent article posted on The Slate entitled “Therapy By Internet May Be More Effective Than You Think” continues to explore this discussion and expand the field of medical and  mental  health into the technology age.  An ever growing area of the medical word is the use of technology and video conferencing, which continues to grow particularly in use with physicians – the technical term called “Telemedicine”.

The formal  definition  for Telemedicine (from Wikipedia) is as follow:  Telemedicine is the use of telecommunication and information technologies in order to provide clinical health care at a distance. It helps eliminate distance barriers and can improve access to medical services that would often not be consistently available in distant rural communities. It is also used to save lives in critical care and emergency situations.


The growth of technology provides convenience, but also provides the opportunity to connect with others struggling with addiction at any time and any place

Our team at Chat 2 Recovery is interested in helping to grow the field of addiction treatment through telemedicine for those in need.  With our team of trained professionals and ease of availability with technology, our goal is to reach as many individuals in need of support around the struggles of addiction and substance abuse.  We utilize a combination of videoconferencing, text messaging, emails, and chat to support our clients as well as create a safe environment online for individuals to support each other.

While research is limited in regards to Telemedicine and the effectiveness of online therapy, we at Chat 2 Recovery believe in the benefits of being connected with others through any medium – even technology.  From the studies that have been completed, there appears to be ample evidence that it is effective and can be a benefit.  We hope to grow the  statistics  and evidence to support this!  We encourage you to reach out and provide us  with  feedback and ideas of what you would like to see from Chat 2 Recovery.

What has been your experience with or thoughts on the movement of online therapy as  a viable form of treatment support? We look forward to your thoughts and comments!

– Blog written by Nick Lessa

Nicholas Lessa is the Clinical Director of Chat2Recovery, an online substance abuse treatment program, and Inter-Care, a leading substance abuse treatment program in New York City. He has been in the field of substance abuse treatment for over 30 years. He is the lead author of two books, Wiley’s Concise Guide to Mental Health: Substance Use Disorders and Living with Alcoholism and Drug Addiction.

Copeland, J., and Martin, G. “Web-based interventions for substance use disorders: A qualitative review”, J Subst Abuse Treat. 26 (2): 109-116, 2004.
Cunningham, J.A., Humphreys, K., and Koski-Jannes, A. “Providing personalized assessment feedback for problem drinking on the internet: A pilot project”, J. Stud. Alcohol. 61: 794-798, 2000.
Cloud, R.N., and Peacock, P. L. “Internet screening and interventions for problem drinking: Results from the pilot study”, Alcohol Treat Quarterly. 19 (2): 23-44, 2001.
Frueh, B. C., Henderson, S., and Myrick, H. “Telehealth service delivery for persons with alcoholism”, J. Telemed & Telecare. 11: 372-375, 2005.
Griffiths, M. “Internet help and therapy for addictive behavior”, J. CyberTherapy & Rehab. 2 (1). 43-52. 2009.
King, V. L., Stoller, K.B., Kidorf, M., et al. “Assessing the effectiveness of an internet-based video conferencing platform for delivering intensified substance abuse counseling”, J. Sub. Abuse Treat. 36. 331-338. 2009.
Reis, J. and Riley, W. “Assessment of a computer-supported alcohol education intervention program”, Health Ed. 102 (3). 124-132. 2002.
Posted in Online Addiction Treatment, Online Therapy, Substance Abuse Research.

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