Study: Texting can deter alcohol abuse

Getting the message: A new Feinstein Institute study suggests text messaging could help heavy drinkers cut back.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

A first-of-its-kind study conducted by the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research has found that text messaging can be an effective alcohol-abuse deterrent.

Feinstein Institute researchers led by Frederick Muench, director of Northwell Health’s Digital Health Interventions in Psychiatry unit, conducted a 12-week controlled pilot study of 152 participants interested in curtailing their drinking problems.

The results, in a nutshell: Drinkers who received “adaptive-tailored texts” were able to reduce their drinking at levels similar to drinkers who received “in-person moderation treatments,” according to the Feinstein Institute.

The team published it findings Thursday in the peer-reviewed science journal PLOS ONE.

Frederick Muench: Texting could be a savior for binge-drinkers.

“I am very encouraged by what I see in this study,” Muench said in a statement.

The study was the first to recruit a remote population from across the country and deliver an “automated mobile intervention” for problem drinking, the Feinstein Institute said. The intervention involved one of four different kinds of text messages – each reinforcing the alcohol-reduction theme – sent daily to participants and weekly “self-tracking mobile-assessment texts” sent to a separate control group.

Texts were either “loss-framed” (for example, “Think of all you have lost as a result of drinking too much”), “gain-framed” (“think of all you can achieve”), “static-tailored” (“It’s Friday” or “It’s been three weeks since you signed up”) or “adaptive-tailored” (incorporating the other types and various individual factors, such as coinciding with a participant’s heaviest drinking times).

The texts also factored in individual details such as the participant’s age, gender and specific drinking habits.

After three months, the study showed that participants in each of the four groups “significantly reduced different aspects of problem drinking” compared to the weekly-tracking control group, according to the Feinstein Institute, with the adaptive-tailored texts group recording the largest reductions in frequency and quantity.

Those who received adaptive-tailored texts reduced their weekly alcohol consumption by 9.64 drinks, compared to a 2.5-drink decrease in the control group, according to the study.

Also significant: When asked if they’d like to continue receiving messages for an additional 12 weeks after the study, 80 percent of all participants said yes.

That’s extremely promising stuff, according to Muench, “especially for individuals with limited resources.”

“Today, text messaging is part of our daily routine,” the researcher noted. “If we could find a way to make this subtle but effective communication help those who are trying to drink less succeed when they need encouragement most, we have created something that can positively impact the 15 million American adults living with an alcohol-use disorder.”