Using Text Messaging to Alter Drinking Behavior in Young Adults

Posted on September 28th, 2014
Posted in Alcohol Abuse

A new study from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine found that using text messaging to acquire data that calculates and keeps track of one’s drinking can not only offer immediate feedback and information to people discharged from the hospital, but it can also cut down on drink-related issues and accidents.

Funded by the Emergency Medicine Foundation, author Brian Suffoletto, MD, and his team worked to find out if relying on the text-messaging service offered on most mobile devices could be linked to collecting drinking data and provide helpful tips and feedback to prevent or alter drinking behavior in teens and young adults.

First Study to Look at Texting and Alcohol Control

Suffoletto and his colleagues created a study that is the first of its kind, as no prior study has delved into using this already prevalent resource as a means to monitor and control one’s drinking habits. Considering this form of communication is basically a staple among young people, this method is an easy go-to for collecting and analyzing drinking data. The findings were published in the August 2014 issue of the journal Annals of Emergency Medicine.

Over 50,000 adults aged between 18 and 24 ends up in hospital emergency rooms across the country and almost half of the incidents reported are due to dangerous alcohol-related issues. Over one-third of those 50,000 people reported alcohol dependence or abuse issues.

Can collecting drinking data really affect alcohol consumption in young people? Suffoletto and his team think so, as they feel that eventually emergency departments in hospitals could implement a text-related service of some kind to keep up with those who’ve entered their doors due to alcohol-related problems.

Teens Texted About Drinking Plans and Outcomes

A randomized trial of the program, based on the use of text messaging services, was conducted with 765 young adults who had been discharged from local emergency departments in the western Pennsylvania area. The participants were split up into three different groups.

The first group received periodic, automated texts that asked them about their future drinking plans and then followed up on the amount of alcohol that they actually ended up consuming. If these participants reported that they may drink heavily, they received a text message that told them they should be concerned about those levels and attempt to reduce their drinking for the week. A heavy drinking day consists of five drinks within a 24-hour period for men and four drinks for women. If the person receiving the texts decided to reply with a “yes” to the heavy-drinking question, they were given positive, encouraging feedback.

The second group of participants was given only one text message question per week about their overall alcohol consumption for that week, but they didn’t receive any follow-up messages or feedback upon their responses. The last group acted as the control group and they didn’t receive any text messages at all.

Young-Adult Drinking Reduced by T3exting Intervention

Within a three-month span, participants who were given the most texting intervention and feedback had dropped their drinking experiences by at least one to two times per month. Fifteen percent of the group reported that they’d been involved in no drinking situations at all. The group that was only assessed via text but received no further information or feedback actually increased their amount of drinking within the three-month period.

Overall, this proves that the text messaging, accompanied by helpful tips and tricks to deal with and prevent alcohol binging, can make a difference when it comes to young-adult drinking and may be able to become a helpful resource in the future.

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