University Text Message Program Found Effective at Cutting Binge Drinking

A University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine-led trial to test a text message-based program 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 revealed that the first-of-its-kind program, designed by lead author Brian Suffoletto, M.D., assistant professor of emergency medicine at the school, 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 program ended. The results have been published in the journal PLOS ONE and are now available online.

"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," Suffoletto said in a news release.

The 12-week trial randomized 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 program, which consisted of text messages on Thursdays inquiring about weekend drinking plans and promoting a goal commitment to limit drinking, followed by another text on Sunday to inquire about actual drinking and give tailored feedback aimed at reducing alcohol consumption.

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 percent reduced incidence of binge drinking. The control group and the self-monitoring group both had no reduction in alcohol consumption.

"By interacting with these young adults in a way in which they are receptive to communicating, and reducing the stigma associated with traditional face-to-face counseling, text messages can provide the boost they need to control their drinking when they are at their most vulnerable to forget what is healthiest for them,” Suffoletto concluded.

 

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