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Face-to-face interventions are more effective than computer-delivered programs to curb college drinking, a new study finds. While both strategies can produce results in the short term, only in-person counseling produces results beyond a few months, according to

Computer-delivered interventions (CDIs) have become a popular way for colleges to reach a large number of students, according to lead author Kate Carey of Brown University. She reviewed 48 studies on college programs to combat drinking.

“If your resources are limited, and resources always are, and that’s all that you can field for your institution, then offering a computer-delivered intervention is better than nothing,” Carey said in a news release. “But the question is would your resources allow you to do something better if something better existed, and we do know now that there are intervention modalities that might be better.”

Carey found that while both methods of delivering alcohol interventions had positive results in the first few months, by 14 weeks, computer-delivered programs did not have any significant effects on students’ drinking. The benefits of in-person counseling were stronger, and lasted longer.

Computer programs may not be as effective because they are less able to hold students’ attention, Carey noted. “Many designers have done reasonable jobs trying to make CDIs interactive for participants,” she said, “but one thing that might be missing in these interactions, if somebody is tempted to game the system or if they are just getting bored, is someone on the other side to pull them back in and help them stay engaged.”

The study also found women are less likely than men to be helped by computer-based programs.

The findings appear in Clinical Psychology Review.

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