Open Access Research article

Assessment of function and clinical utility of alcohol and other drug web sites: An observational, qualitative study

Frances J Kay-Lambkin12*, Angela White3, Amanda L Baker2, David J Kavanagh4, Britt Klein5, Judith Proudfoot6, Judy Drennan7, Jason Connor3 and Ross M Young4

Author Affiliations

1 National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Australia

2 Centre for Brain and Mental Health Research, Faculty of Health, University of Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia

3 Centre for Youth Substance Abuse Research, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Queensland, Australia

4 Institute of Health & Biomedical Innovation and School of Psychology & Counselling, Queensland University of Technology, Queensland, Australia

5 National eTherapy Centre, Faculty of Life and Social Sciences, Swinburne University, Victoria, Australia

6 BlackDog Institute, School of Psychiatry, University of New South Wales, New South Wales, Australia

7 School of Advertising, Marketing and Public Relations, Faculty of Business, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

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BMC Public Health 2011, 11:277  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-11-277

Published: 5 May 2011



The increasing popularity and use of the internet makes it an attractive option for providing health information and treatment, including alcohol/other drug use. There is limited research examining how people identify and access information about alcohol or other drug (AOD) use online, or how they assess the usefulness of the information presented. This study examined the strategies that individuals used to identify and navigate a range of AOD websites, along with the attitudes concerning presentation and content.


Members of the general community in Brisbane and Roma (Queensland, Australia) were invited to participate in a 30-minute search of the internet for sites related to AOD use, followed by a focus group discussion. Fifty one subjects participated in the study across nine focus groups.


Participants spent a maximum of 6.5 minutes on any one website, and less if the user was under 25 years of age. Time spent was as little as 2 minutes if the website was not the first accessed. Participants recommended that AOD-related websites should have an engaging home or index page, which quickly and accurately portrayed the site's objectives, and provided clear site navigation options. Website content should clearly match the title and description of the site that is used by internet search engines. Participants supported the development of a portal for AOD websites, suggesting that it would greatly facilitate access and navigation.

Treatment programs delivered online were initially viewed with caution. This appeared to be due to limited understanding of what constituted online treatment, including its potential efficacy.


A range of recommendations arise from this study regarding the design and development of websites, particularly those related to AOD use. These include prudent use of text and information on any one webpage, the use of graphics and colours, and clear, uncluttered navigation options. Implications for future website development are discussed.