Web-based self-help with and without chat counseling to reduce cocaine use in cocaine misusers: Results of a three-arm randomized controlled trial

Michael P. Schaub*, Raquel Paz Castro, Andreas Wenger, Christian Baumgartner, Lars Stark, David D. Ebert, Boris B. Quednow, Severin Haug

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background: In recent years, cocaine use has increased in many countries, but only a minority of users seek treatment. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is seen as first-choice face-to-face treatment. However, a web-based intervention might serve as an alternative. Aims: To test the efficacy of a web-based self-help intervention, with and without chat counseling, grounded in CBT, at reducing cocaine use in cocaine misusers not in treatment for a substance use disorder. Methods: Subjects were randomly assigned to (1) a self-help intervention with chat support, (2) a self-help intervention without chat support, or (3) a waiting list control group. The fully-automated self-help program consisted of eight modules based on motivational interviewing, self-control practices and CBT. The primary outcome was the quantity of cocaine use per week. Secondary outcomes included frequency of cocaine and other substance use and mental health symptoms. Linear regression analysis was performed to investigate changes in primary and secondary outcomes. Results: In total, 416 users registered online for the trial, of whom 311 completed the baseline assessment. Participants were predominantly male (73%) and averaged 33 years old (SD = 7.6). Despite considerable efforts on our part, only 47 of 311 (15.1%) subjects completed the 6-month follow-up assessment. Frequency of cocaine use and severity of cocaine dependence decreased only in the intervention groups. No significant difference in the primary outcome was observed between the study arms, but several differences in secondary outcomes were observed by complete case analyses. Conclusions: Many cocaine misusers from the general population and not otherwise in treatment could be reached and decreased their cocaine use utilizing a CBT-based online intervention. However, due to the high percentage of dropouts and serious difficulties reaching subjects for follow-up assessments, no conclusions can be drawn regarding study arm differences. Implications for future studies are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100251
JournalInternet Interventions
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Chat
  • Cocaine
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Internet
  • Motivational Interviewing
  • Self-help


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