A web-based cognitive bias modification intervention (Re-train Your Brain) for emerging adults with co-occurring social anxiety and hazardous alcohol use: protocol for a multiarm randomized controlled pilot trial

Katrina Prior*, Elske Salemink, Reinout W. Wiers, Bethany A. Teachman, Monique Piggott, Nicola C. Newton, Maree Teesson, Andrew J. Baillie, Victoria Manning, Lauren F. McLellan, Alison Mahoney, Lexine A. Stapinski

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
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Background: Alcohol use and anxiety disorders commonly co-occur, resulting in a more severe clinical presentation and poorer response to treatment. Research has shown that approach bias modification (ApBM) and interpretation bias modification (IBM) cognitive retraining interventions can be efficacious adjunctive treatments that improve outcomes for alcohol use and social anxiety, respectively. However, the acceptability, feasibility, and clinical utility of combining ApBM and IBM programs to optimize treatments among comorbid samples are unknown. It is also unclear whether integrating ApBM and IBM within each training session or alternating them between each session is more acceptable and efficacious. 

Objective: This paper describes the protocol for a randomized controlled pilot trial investigating the feasibility, acceptability, and preliminary efficacy of the Re-train Your Brain intervention-an adjunct web-based ApBM+IBM program-among a clinical sample of emerging adults with hazardous alcohol use and social anxiety. 

Methods: The study involves a three-arm randomized controlled pilot trial in which treatment-seeking emerging adults (18-30 years) with co-occurring hazardous alcohol use and social anxiety will be individually randomized to receive the Re-train Your Brain integrated program, delivered with 10 biweekly sessions focusing on both social anxiety and alcohol each week, plus treatment as usual (TAU; ie, the model of care provided in accordance with standard practice at their service; n=30); the Re-train Your Brain alternating program, delivered with 10 biweekly sessions focusing on social anxiety one week and alcohol the next week, plus TAU (n=30); or TAU only (n=30). Primary outcomes include feasibility (uptake, follow-up rates, treatment adherence, attrition, and adverse events) and acceptability (system usability, client satisfaction, user experience, and training format preference). Secondary efficacy outcomes include changes in alcohol approach and interpretation biases, social anxiety, and alcohol use (eg, drinks per day, binge drinking, drinking motives, severity of dependence, and cravings). The primary end point will be posttreatment (6 weeks postbaseline), with a secondary end point at 3 months postbaseline. Descriptive statistics will be conducted for primary outcomes, whereas intention-to-treat, multilevel mixed effects analysis for repeated measures will be performed for secondary outcomes. 

Results: This study is funded from 2019 to 2023 by Australian Rotary Health. Recruitment is expected to be completed by mid-2022 to late 2022, with follow-ups completed by early 2023. 

Conclusions: This study will be the first to evaluate whether an ApBM+IBM program is acceptable to treatment-seeking, emerging adults and whether it can be feasibly delivered via the web, in settings where it will ultimately be used (eg, at home). The findings will broaden our understanding of the types of programs that emerging adults will engage with and whether the program may be an efficacious treatment option for this comorbidity. 

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere28667
Number of pages18
JournalJMIR Research Protocols
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 7 Jul 2021

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2021. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • alcohol
  • anxiety
  • cognitive bias modification
  • interpretation bias
  • approach bias
  • emerging adults


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