Open Access Open Badges Research article

Baseline predictors of treatment outcome in Internet-based alcohol interventions: a recursive partitioning analysis alongside a randomized trial

Matthijs Blankers12*, Maarten WJ Koeter2 and Gerard M Schippers2

Author Affiliations

1 Jellinek, Arkin Mental Health Care, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

2 Academic Medical Centre, Department of Psychiatry, Amsterdam Institute for Addiction Research, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

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BMC Public Health 2013, 13:455  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-455

Published: 7 May 2013



Internet-based interventions are seen as attractive for harmful users of alcohol and lead to desirable clinical outcomes. Some participants will however not achieve the desired results. In this study, harmful users of alcohol have been partitioned in subgroups with low, intermediate or high probability of positive treatment outcome, using recursive partitioning classification tree analysis.


Data were obtained from a randomized controlled trial assessing the effectiveness of two Internet-based alcohol interventions. The main outcome variable was treatment response, a dichotomous outcome measure for treatment success. Candidate predictors for the classification analysis were first selected using univariate regression. Next, a tree decision model to classify participants in categories with a low, medium and high probability of treatment response was constructed using recursive partitioning software.


Based on literature review, 46 potentially relevant baseline predictors were identified. Five variables were selected using univariate regression as candidate predictors for the classification analysis. Two variables were found most relevant for classification and selected for the decision tree model: ‘living alone’, and ‘interpersonal sensitivity’. Using sensitivity analysis, the robustness of the decision tree model was supported.


Harmful alcohol users in a shared living situation, with high interpersonal sensitivity, have a significantly higher probability of positive treatment outcome. The resulting decision tree model may be used as part of a decision support system but is on its own insufficient as a screening algorithm with satisfactory clinical utility.

Trial registration

Netherlands Trial Register (Cochrane Collaboration): NTR-TC1155.

Alcohol; Internet; Intervention; Outcome predictors; RCT; Recursive partitioning