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How Texting Could Help Prevent Binge Drinking

Could text messaging help reduce binge drinking among young adults?

A new study from the University of Pittsburgh School Of Medicine suggests that this might be the case.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Binge drinking is considered to be five drinks or more for men and  four drinks or more for women generally over a two hour period.

Brian Suffoletto, lead author of the study and an assistance professor of emergency medicine at Pitt, said binge drinking in the U.S. has become an epidemic.

“It seems that binge drinking has become normal behavior," Suffoletto said. "It’s acceptable societal behavior and what people don’t realize is it’s associated with significant morbidity. It’s not only immediate injury and illness – getting into car accidents, getting in assaults with other people, as well as long-term risks of brain problems, heart problems, liver problems.”

The year-long study took 765 young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 who have hazardous drinking behavior and split them into three groups.

The first group received text messages Thursday, asking the participants whether they planned to binge drink that weekend and to set a goal for themselves.

On Sunday, that same group received another text message asking if they met their goal for the weekend.

If they had binged, the researchers asked them to think about why.

“As a surrogate for healthcare provider system, we felt it was obligatory to sort of say that we think this is dangerous behavior, it can result in both short and long-term injury and illness,” Suffoletto said. “And then we got them to reflect on that episode, so we tried to provide messages that really got them to sort of think about that behavior.”

He said if they did not have a binge episode, the participants were congratulated and asked to reflect on their success.

The second group only received text messages asking how much alcohol the participants consumed without feedback or a pre-message.

The third group received no text messages.

By three months, participants in the first group reportedly reduced the times they went drinking each month from 3-4 times to 1-2 times, and nearly 15 percent of this group reported that they had not partaken in a drinking occasion at all.

But participants in the second group increased their drinking throughout the study.

“We’re starting to look at what were the active ingredients and what are the mechanisms of change in young adults both through interviewing the participants who have completed this study as well as looking at some of the data that we collected through text messaging over the 12 weeks of intervention,” Suffoletto said. “And what we are finding is that we believe our active ingredient is really in the short-term goal setting.”

If participants in the first group had drinks but not enough to consider it binging, he said they were not congratulated.

But Suffoletto said the point of the study was not to have the students stop drinking altogether.

“The foundation for our intervention was not for abstinence, it was not to tell young adults not to drink at all because it’s really difficult number one to get young adults to not drink at all because it is very socially normal or normative, especially in a college setting,” Suffoletto said. “Our focus is really on reducing the high-risk drinking situations.”