Text messages to help curb binge drinking

Can a personalised text message help you control binge drinking? A recent study thinks it can.

Early this year, public health researchers with Melbourne’s Burnet Institute trialled the use of personalised mobile phone messages to help people curb their binge drinking.

The text messages will send personalised text messages on how much the user has consumed, saying things such as:

“You said you’d only have 6 drinks tonight but you’ve already had 7… What’s your game plan?”

“Don’t forget you have work tomorrow at 8. Going to feel fresh?”

Involving young adults aged between 18 to 25, the study has produced promising results, with participants saying that the project was an ‘eye opener’.

Participants on a night out were asked to complete an hourly questionnaire tracking the drinks they consumed, spending and mood as part of the pilot research project.

You’d think that young people wouldn’t be bothered to fill out the surveys every hour, but you’d be surprised.

“We had a really high response rate … throughout the nights, 90 per cent of all of the surveys were filled in meaning that we got a really clear picture into what the young people are actually doing on their nights out,” said Cassandra Wright, the lead researcher of the study from Burnet’s Centre for Population Health.

Ms. Wright added that many of the young study participants were surprised by the impact the text messages had on them, and thought the pilot research project was an “eye opener”.

“We had people saying ‘I’ve never actually noticed how much I was drinking before, I never tried to keep track’, and others saying ‘I reached my spending limit and I thought yep, OK, it’s time to go home’,” Ms Wright said.

According to Ms. Write, individualising messages about health helps to make them more effective.

However, this is the only study that’s been able to collect alcohol-related data and use it to deliver messages tailored specifically to the context of where the participants are and what they’re doing.

The study’s success prompted VicHealth and Gandel Philanthropy to support a larger study involving 270 participants with more comprehensive testing and evaluation.

Jerril Rechter, VicHealth’s chief executive officer, is supportive of the study because it targets young people’s risky drinking.

“VicHealth is keen to support research and interventions that aim to address harmful drinking attitudes and behaviour, with reducing harm from alcohol one of our priority areas of work,” she said.

If the next phase of the study is successful, there will be a bigger study that would generate automated text messages.

“It’s a really big database of thousands of different messages that are applicable to different situations and different times of night,” she said.

So what do you think now? Would you control your drinking, too, if you received a personalised text message like this? Tell us what you think in the comments section below!

 

References: Young people embrace text message reminders to help curb binge drinking