Internet-based attentional bias modification training as add-on to regular treatment in alcohol and cannabis dependent outpatients: a study protocol of a randomized control trial

Janika Heitmann*, Madelon E. van Hemel-Ruiter, Karin M. Vermeulen, Brian D. Ostafin, Colin MacLeod, Reinout W. Wiers, Laura DeFuentes-Merillas, Martine Fledderus, Wiebren Markus, Peter J. de Jong

*Corresponding author for this work

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Background: The automatic tendency to attend to and focus on substance-related cues in the environment (attentional bias), has been found to contribute to the persistence of addiction. Attentional bias modification (ABM) interventions might, therefore, contribute to treatment outcome and the reduction of relapse rates. Based on some promising research findings, we designed a study to test the clinical relevance of ABM as an add-on component of regular intervention for alcohol and cannabis patients.

Design/Methods: The current protocol describes a study which will investigate the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of a newly developed home-delivered, multi-session, internet-based ABM (iABM) intervention as an add-on to treatment as usual (TAU). TAU consists of cognitive behavioural therapy-based treatment according to the Dutch guidelines for the treatment of addiction. Participants (N = 213) will be outpatients from specialized addiction care institutions diagnosed with alcohol or cannabis dependency who will be randomly assigned to one of three conditions: TAU + iABM; TAU + placebo condition; TAU-only. Primary outcome measures are substance use, craving, and rates of relapse. Changes in attentional bias will be measured to investigate whether changes in primary outcome measures can be attributed to the modification of attentional bias. Indices of cost-effectiveness and secondary physical and psychological complaints (depression, anxiety, and stress) are assessed as secondary outcome measures.

Discussion: This randomized control trial will be the first to investigate whether a home-delivered, multi-session iABM intervention is (cost-) effective in reducing relapse rates in alcohol and cannabis dependency as an add-on to TAU, compared with an active and a waiting list control group. If proven effective, this ABM intervention could be easily implemented as a home-delivered component of current TAU.

Original languageEnglish
Article number193
Number of pages13
JournalBMC Psychiatry
Issue number193
Publication statusPublished - 23-May-2017


  • Addiction
  • Attentional bias modification
  • eHealth

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