Text messages may effectively cut binge drinking

Thursday, Nov 26, 2015,12:02 IST By Metrovaartha A A A

Washington | Sending young adults text messages might be an effective way to reduce binge drinking and alcohol-related injuries, a new study suggests. A University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine-led trial to test a text message-based programme aimed at reducing binge drinking is the first to show that such an intervention can successfully produce sustained reductions in alcohol consumption in young adults.

The findings showed that the programme, designed by lead author Brian Suffoletto, assistant professor of emergency medicine at Pitt, reduced binge drinking and alcohol-related injuries when compared to a control group and a self-monitoring group.

The positive effect continued six months after the programme ended. Given the low cost to send text messages and the capacity to deliver them to almost every at-risk young adult, a text message-based intervention targeting binge drinking could have a public health impact on reducing both immediate and long-term health problems, said Suffoletto.

The 12-week trial randomised into three groups 765 18- to 25-year-olds who were discharged from four urban emergency departments in western Pennsylvania. The control group received standard care and no text messages. The self-monitoring group received text messages on Sundays asking about drinking quantity but received no feedback.

The final group received the full programme, which consisted of text messages on Thursdays enquiring about weekend drinking plans and promoting a goal commitment to limit drinking, followed by another text on Sunday to enquire about actual drinking and give tailored feedback aimed at reducing alcohol consumption.

If someone receiving the full intervention programme reported anticipating a heavy drinking day more than five drinks during any 24-hour period for men and more than four for women, he or she received a text message expressing concern about those levels and asking if they would be willing to set a goal to limit their drinking below binge thresholds for the weekend.

Those who responded to the affirmative then received messages expressing positive reinforcement and strategies for cutting down. Those who refused to set goals received a text message encouraging them to reflect on the decision.

Six months after the end of the trial, participants who were exposed to the full text-message intervention reported an average of one less binge drinking day per month. There also was a 12 per cent reduced incidence of binge drinking.

The control group and the self-monitoring group both had no reduction in alcohol consumption. Our text message-based intervention is scalable, provides uniform behavioural materials, and seems to produce meaningful, potentially life-saving results, said Suffoletto.