A Web-Based, Computer-Tailored Intervention to Reduce Alcohol Consumption and Binge Drinking Among Spanish Adolescents: Cluster Randomized Controlled Trial

Jose Manuel Martinez-Montilla*, Liesbeth Mercken, Hein de Vries, Math Candel, Joaquin Salvador Lima-Rodriguez, Marta Lima-Serrano

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background: Alcohol consumption, including binge drinking (BD) and heavy episodic drinking (HED), is one of the leading risk factors among Spanish adolescents leading to significant social, health, and economic consequences. Reduction of BD and HED in adolescents can be achieved using Web-based, computer-tailored (CT) interventions, providing highly personalized feedback that is adapted to a person's individual characteristics and needs. Randomized controlled trials assessing the effects of tailored BD reduction programs among Spanish adolescents are scarce.

Objective: The aim of this study was to test the effectiveness of the Web-based, CT intervention Alerta Alcohol, aimed at the prevention of BD in Spanish adolescents. As a secondary outcome, effects on HED, weekly consumption, and any consumption were also assessed. The adherence and process evaluation were assessed.

Methods: A cluster randomized controlled trial conducted among 15 Spanish schools was developed. Each school was randomized into either an experimental condition (EC) (N=742) or a control condition (CC) (N=505). Finally, 351 participants for the EC and 261 for the CC were included in the analysis (N=612). Baseline assessment took place in January and February 2017. Demographic variables and alcohol use were assessed at baseline. Follow-up assessment of alcohol use took place 4 months later in May and June 2017. Participants were compared according to their randomization group (EC versus CC). After the baseline assessment, participants in the EC started the intervention, which consisted of short stories about BD, in which CT feedback was based on the I-Change Model for behavior change. Participants in the CC group only received the baseline questionnaire Effects of the intervention were assessed using a three-level mixed logistic regression analysis for BD, HED, and any consumption, and a three-level mixed linear regression analysis for weekly consumption.

Results: In total, 1247 adolescents participated in the baseline assessment and 612 participated in the follow-up assessment; the attrition rate was 50.92%. The intervention was effective in reducing HED among adolescents; the odds of HED in the CC was nine times that in the experimental condition (P=.04). No effects were found for BD, weekly consumption, and any consumption. Process evaluations revealed that the adolescents were satisfied with the program (68.8%), would use the program again (52.9%), and would recommend it to someone else (62.8%). Females and non-binge drinkers showed better responses in the process evaluation.

Conclusions: Our intervention was effective regarding HED but not regarding BD, weekly consumption, and any consumption. It may be that limiting alcohol consumption to prevent HED was easier in the Spanish context than it was to carry out further steps, such as reducing other patterns of alcohol consumption. Hence, additional actions are needed to accomplish these latter goals, including community approaches and policy actions aimed at denormalizing alcohol consumption among Spanish adolescents.

Original languageEnglish
Article number15438
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Medical Internet Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 24 Jan 2020


  • adolescents
  • alcohol consumption
  • binge drinking
  • cluster randomized controlled trial
  • computer tailoring


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