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Telephone Counselling for Non-Tobacco Substance Use

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Date Commenced:
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Postdoctoral Research Fellow
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Honorary Professor
Ph 02 9385 0231
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Ms Lucy Albertella
Research Assistant
Project Main Description: 

Technology assisted substance use interventions such as ‘high-tech’ internet-based treatments are thought to be effective; however, the relatively ‘low tech’ use of telephone counselling does not yet have an established evidence base outside of tobacco cessation.  


Telephone counselling for illicit drug use and for alcohol use is a widespread practice. There has been no previous review of literature evaluating this practice and to date effectiveness has been taken as prima facie.


Given the lack of available information, this paper reviews the literature including articles with information on the use of telephone counselling for the treatment of illicit drug or alcohol use.           

Design and Method: 

A literature search using a set of telephone counselling and substance-related terms was conducted across eight electronic databases. English studies prior to 2014 that involved the use of an existing telephone counselling helpline for the treatment of illicit drug or alcohol use were included. Review papers, opinion pieces, letters or editorials, case studies, published abstracts, and posters were excluded. Seventy one publications were included in the review.


The benefits of telephone counselling in maximising drug treatment delivery and accessibility are evident beyond successes in assisting with tobacco cessation. Although there is a clear need for further research, the available evidence is largely positive and supports the efforts of already existing (but typically unevaluated) illicit drug and alcohol telephone counselling services.


This work has been accepted for publication with the Journal of Telemedicine and Telecare:

Gates, P., Albertella L. (2015). The effectiveness of telephone counselling in the treatment of illicit drug and alcohol use concerns.  Journal of Telemedicine and Telecare, In Press doi: 10.1177/1357633X15587406

In addition the preliminary results were presented in a conference poster to APSAD, 2014: 
Gates, P. & Albertella, L. (2014) Treating substance use problems through telephone counselling – A literature review, Poster presented at the Australasian Professional Society on Alcohol and other Drugs Conference, 9-12 November, Adelaide, Australia

An evidence based understanding regarding the effectiveness of telephone counselling in the treatment of substance use is essential information for funding bodies and potential participants. 

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