Researchers Find Results Months After Finishing Binge Drinking Text Message Program

Nov 27, 2015

Researchers found heavy drinkers responded to text messages giving encouraging advice about how to avoid binge drinking.
Credit Megan Harris / 90.5 WESA

A new study out of the University of Pittsburgh found that a text message program that aimed to help young adults cut down on binge drinking worked six months after the program ended.

The study is in the journal PLOS ONE.

The 12-week study placed nearly 800 18- to 25-year-olds into three groups. All of the participants had had been admitted to emergency rooms at UPMC Mercy, Magee-Womens Hospital, Shadyside Hospital and UPMC Presbyterian. They had, for the most part, been admitted with non-alcohol related injuries such as a sore throat or sprained ankle but in surveys, self-identified as heavy or binge drinkers.

One group received standard care and no text messages. A second group received messages on Sunday asking how much they drank – but didn’t provide any feedback. And the third group received text messages on Thursday asking about their weekend drinking plans, then got some feedback to help them limit drinking and then received a follow-up Sunday text that checked in and provided tailored feedback.

Six months after the study, those in the third group who had the full text message experience reported an average of one less binge drinking day a month. The other two groups had no reduction in drinking.

Lead researcher Brian Suffoletto works in emergency rooms. He said this post-study research is especially important when it comes to intervention research.

“Most studies have found that these types of interventions don’t really have any durability in that when you stop the intervention, people kind of resort back to their normal sort of pre-intervention behavioral patterns and this has been seen in a number of different behaviors across – exercise and diet as well as hazardous alcohol consumption," he said. 

The age group they focused on is vulnerable in the health care system, Suffoletto added, because they aren’t seeing the pediatrician they may have seen while growing up and they aren’t yet at the age where they have health care problems and need to take medications.

“A lot of adolescents and young adults don’t have routine primary care, so that’s why it's important that the emergency department is an opportunistic venue to identify these individuals,” said Suffoletto.

The researchers used text messages because with texting also comes a veil of anonymity – and participants felt more comfortable sharing information about their behaviors.

Sixty percent of the study’s participants weren’t college students, which Suffoletto says represents an untapped demographic when it comes to peer-reviewed studies about young drinkers.