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Text Messaging Emergency Patients May Reduce Their Alcohol Consumption

Text messaging may be an effective way for healthcare providers to help young adults reduce heavy drinking, according to a study funded by a research grant by the Emergency Medicine Foundation. The findings were published online in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

“When we used text messaging to collect drinking data and to offer immediate feedback and support to young adults discharged from the emergency department [ED], they drank less,” says lead study author Brian Suffoletto, MD, MS, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University of Pittsburgh. “Each day in the U.S., more than 50,000 adults ages 18 to 24 visit hospital emergency departments, and more than a third of them report current alcohol abuse or dependence. If not addressed, hazardous or binge drinking can lead to high rates of avoidable injuries and death.”

Researchers enrolled 45 adults aged 18 to 24 who were discharged from three EDs in a 12-week trial of a text messaging-based program. Almost one-half of the young adults who were screened through a computer-based survey indicated hazardous drinking behavior. Over the course of the study, participants assigned to both assessment and intervention groups reported that they drank an average of 1.6 days per week and a maximum of 3.8 drinks per drinking day.

Participants in both groups received a series of standard automated text message queries each week about the frequency of their drinking and quantity consumed. In the intervention group, men who reported consuming more than five drinks during any 24-hour period and women who reported consuming more than four received a text message expressing concern about those levels and asking whether the participant would be willing to set a goal to reduce drinking for the week. Those who said yes received messages expressing positive reinforcement and strategies for cutting down. Those who refused to set goals received a text message encouraging them to reflect on the decision.

At three months, participants who received the text message intervention had 3.4 fewer heavy drinking days in the preceding month and 2.1 fewer drinks per drinking day compared with baseline. The assessment group, however, increased their drinking over the course of the study, which is inconsistent with prior studies showing a reduction in drinking in patients who undergo assessments, the researchers note. They speculated that the frequent text messaging may have raised the participants’ awareness of alcohol use and improved the accuracy of their responses.

“Because we used an automated computer system, our intervention has the ability to provide text-messaging based feedback and support at large scale with minimal cost,” says Suffoletto. “Although larger studies are still needed to verify the efficacy and feasibility of this type of program, this appears to be a promising approach that could save the lives of young adults nationwide.”

— Source: Emergency Medicine Foundation