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Pitt Study Finds Text Messaging Effective in Curbing Binge Drinking in Young Adults

A team of researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine conducted a randomized 12-week trial of a text messaging-based program aimed at reducing so-called hazardous drinking behavior. The study involved 45 people between the ages of 18 and 24 who were discharged from area emergency rooms and identified as having engaged in dangerous drinking, such as binge drinking.

They were split into three groups. The first group only received an informational packet in the emergency room about the effects of binge drinking. The second group received weekly text message assessments of their drinking without any feedback. The third group got 12 weeks of assessments delivered via text and immediate feedback on their responses.

"Based on the type of responses they gave us, if they were drinking at risky levels that week we would immediately inform them that they were drinking at a risky level as well as let them set goals to reduce drinking for the coming week," said Dr. Brian Suffoletto, assistant professor of emergency medicine at Pitt.

The third group had the best outcomes. At the end of the study, they had 3.4 fewer heavy drinking days and 2.1 fewer drinks per drinking day when compared to the baseline. The assessment-only group showed an increase in drinking over the course of the study. Suffoletto said that the thought is that the text feedback helped people think more about their behavior and its consequences.

"This is a preliminary study that gives insight into how young adults drink in their natural environment and the opportunities that mobile health delivery systems like text messaging or SMS, the role that they can play in reaching young adults as previous studies haven't shown," said Suffoletto.

He added that this is an example of participatory health in which patients become the drivers of their own health improvement, and interventions such as this only assist in self-help or self-change. The study will be published in the March 2012 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.