Open Access Highly Accessed Study protocol

Study protocol: a randomized controlled trial of a computer-based depression and substance abuse intervention for people attending residential substance abuse treatment

Peter J Kelly1*, Frances J Kay-Lambkin2, Amanda L Baker3, Frank P Deane1, Adam C Brooks4, Alexandra Mitchell1, Sarah Marshall1, Meredith Whittington1 and Genevieve A Dingle5

Author Affiliations

1 Illawarra Institute for Mental Health, School of Psychology, University of Wollongong, Northfields Avenue, Wollongong 2522, Australia

2 National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, University of New South Wales, King Steet, Sydney 2052, Australia

3 Centre for Brain and Mental Health Research, University Drive University of Newcastle, Callaghan 2308, Australia

4 Treatment Research Institute, Independence Mall West, Philadelphia 19106, USA

5 School of Psychology, University of Queensland, Sir Fred Schonell Drive, Brisbane 4072, Australia

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BMC Public Health 2012, 12:113  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-12-113

Published: 10 February 2012



A large proportion of people attending residential alcohol and other substance abuse treatment have a co-occurring mental illness. Empirical evidence suggests that it is important to treat both the substance abuse problem and co-occurring mental illness concurrently and in an integrated fashion. However, the majority of residential alcohol and other substance abuse services do not address mental illness in a systematic way. It is likely that computer delivered interventions could improve the ability of substance abuse services to address co-occurring mental illness. This protocol describes a study in which we will assess the effectiveness of adding a computer delivered depression and substance abuse intervention for people who are attending residential alcohol and other substance abuse treatment.


Participants will be recruited from residential rehabilitation programs operated by the Australian Salvation Army. All participants who satisfy the diagnostic criteria for an alcohol or other substance dependence disorder will be asked to participate in the study. After completion of a baseline assessment, participants will be randomly assigned to either a computer delivered substance abuse and depression intervention (treatment condition) or to a computer-delivered typing tutorial (active control condition). All participants will continue to complete The Salvation Army residential program, a predominantly 12-step based treatment facility. Randomisation will be stratified by gender (Male, Female), length of time the participant has been in the program at the commencement of the study (4 weeks or less, 4 weeks or more), and use of anti-depressant medication (currently prescribed medication, not prescribed medication). Participants in both conditions will complete computer sessions twice per week, over a five-week period. Research staff blind to treatment allocation will complete the assessments at baseline, and then 3, 6, 9, and 12 months post intervention. Participants will also complete weekly self-report measures during the treatment period.


This study will provide comprehensive data on the effect of introducing a computer delivered, cognitive behavioral therapy based co-morbidity treatment program within a residential substance abuse setting. If shown to be effective, this intervention can be disseminated within other residential substance abuse programs.

Trial registration

Australia and New Zealand Clinical Trials Register (ANZCTR): ACTRN12611000618954