University students have high levels of tobacco and other drug use, yet they are unlikely to seek traditional care. Technology-based interventions are highly relevant to this population. This paper comprises a systematic review and meta-analysis of published randomized trials of technology-based interventions evaluated in a tertiary (university/college) setting for tobacco and other drug use (excluding alcohol). It extends previous reviews by using a broad definition of technology.
PubMed, PsycInfo, and the Cochrane databases were searched using keywords, phrases, and MeSH terms. Retrieved abstracts (n = 627) were double screened and coded. Included studies met the following criteria: (1) the study was a randomized trial or a randomized controlled trial (RCT); (2) the sample was composed of students attending a tertiary (e.g., university, college) institution; (3) the intervention was either delivered by or accessed using a technological device or process (e.g., computer/internet, telephone, mobile short message services [SMS]); (4) the age range or mean of the sample was between 18 and 25 years; and (5) the intervention was designed to alter a drug use outcome relating to tobacco or other drugs (excluding alcohol).
A total of 12 papers met inclusion criteria for the current review. The majority of included papers examined tobacco use (n = 9; 75%), two studies targeted marijuana use (17%); and one targeted stress, marijuana, alcohol, and tobacco use. A quantitative meta-analysis was conducted on the tobacco use studies using an abstinence outcome measure (n = 6), demonstrating that the interventions increased the rate of abstinence by 1.5 times that of controls (Risk Ratio [RR] = 1.54; 95% Confidence Interval [CI] = 1.20-1.98). Across all 12 studies, a total of 20 technology-based interventions were reviewed. A range of technology was employed in the interventions, including stand-alone computer programs (n = 10), internet (n = 5), telephone (n = 3), and mobile SMS (n = 2).
Although technological interventions have the potential to reduce drug use in tertiary students, very few trials have been conducted, particularly for substances other than tobacco. However, the improvement shown in abstinence from tobacco use has the potential to impact substantially on morbidity and mortality.