An online intervention for co-occurring depression and problematic alcohol use in young people

Journal reference


Deady, M., Mills, K. L., Teesson, M., & Kay-Lambkin, F. J. (2016). An online intervention for co-occurring depression and problematic alcohol use in young people: Primary outcomes from a randomized controlled trial. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 18(3), e71. 


Background: Depression and problematic alcohol use represent two of the major causes of disease burden in young adults. These conditions frequently co-occur and this is associated with increased harm and poorer outcomes than either disorder in isolation. Integrated treatments have been shown to be effective; however, there remains a significant gap between those in need of treatment and those receiving it. The increased availability of eHealth programs presents a unique opportunity to treat these conditions.

Objective: This study aimed to evaluate the feasibility and preliminary efficacy of an automated Web-based self-help intervention (DEAL Project) in treating co-occurring depressive symptoms and problematic alcohol use in young people.

Methods: Young people (aged 18 to 25 years) with moderate depression symptoms and drinking at hazardous levels (recruited largely via social media) were randomly allocated to the DEAL Project (n=60) or a Web-based attention-control condition (HealthWatch; n=44). The trial consisted of a 4-week intervention phase with follow-up assessment at posttreatment and at 3 and 6 months postbaseline. The primary outcomes were change in depression severity according to the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 as well as quantity and frequency of alcohol use (TOT-AL).

Results: The DEAL Project was associated with statistically significant improvement in depression symptom severity (d=0.71) and reductions in alcohol use quantity (d=0.99) and frequency (d=0.76) in the short term compared to the control group. At 6-month follow-up, the improvements in the intervention group were maintained; however, the differences between the intervention and control groups were no longer statistically significant, such that between-group effects were in the small to moderate range at 6 months (depression symptoms: d=0.39; alcohol quantity: d=–0.09; alcohol frequency: d=0.24).

Conclusions: Overall, the DEAL Project was associated with more rapid improvement in both depression symptoms and alcohol use outcomes in young people with these co-occurring conditions relative to an attention-control condition. However, long-term outcomes are less clear.


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