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The Effect of a Computer-based Intervention on Adult Children of Alcoholics

Gustafson, David H. PhD; McTavish, Fiona M. MS; Schubert, Christopher J. BA; Johnson, Roberta A. MA, MEd

Journal of Addiction Medicine: March 2012 - Volume 6 - Issue 1 - p 24–28
doi: 10.1097/ADM.0b013e31822b80ca
Original Research

Objectives: People who grow up with a family member who has a substance use disorder (SUD) are at risk for serious problems, and yet support for family members focuses mainly on the individual with the SUD. Technology may offer a way to make support widely available to family members of those with SUDs. This small randomized trial examined an online system of resources called CHESS (Comprehensive Health Enhancement Support System) for adult children of alcoholics (ACOAs), a population at greater risk for SUDs, depression, and other difficulties than adults whose parents were not alcoholics.

Methods: The study randomized 23 self-identified ACOAs to 3 interventions for 8 weeks. The goal was to increase participants' treatment compliance and psychological health. The interventions were therapy only, CHESS only, and CHESS plus therapy. We used 2 measures: compliance with treatment, gauged by attendance in group therapy for the 2 groups assigned to therapy, and aspects of psychological health or distress, measured by a survey with items from 7 scales.

Results: The CHESS-plus-therapy group had an attendance rate in group therapy of 81.5% compared to 42.8% for the therapy-only group. The CHESS-only intervention had the largest effect size on 5 of the 7 measures of psychological health or distress. In 4 of the 5 cases, the effect size was large; in 1 case, it was moderate.

Conclusions: The findings of this pilot study are based on a small sample, but they suggest the need for more research and the potentially important role of technology in behavioral health treatment.

From the Center for Health Enhancement Systems Studies, Department of Industrial Engineering, University of Wisconsin—Madison, Madison, WI.

Send correspondence and reprint requests to David H. Gustafson, PhD, 4109 Mechanical Engineering Building, 1513 University Avenue, Madison, WI 53706. e-mail:

Received April 15, 2011

Accepted June 28, 2011

© 2012 American Society of Addiction Medicine