Dr. Brian Suffoletto is an emergency physician and Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. As the 2010 recipient of an Emergency Medicine Foundation Society for Academic Emergency Medicine Medical Student Research Grant, Dr. Suffoletto was able to utilize social media technology (texting) as an intervention tool to reach college age students who binge drink.

Young adults aged 18-24 years may be at the greatest risk for alcohol-related harm. Access to and use of treatment services for alcohol use disorders in young adults is low. The Emergency Department is an opportunistic setting to intervene to reduce future harm, but alcohol programs are underutilized. Currently available mobile communication technologies can be used to cost effectively complement and extend existing models for alcohol harm prevention to improve long-term outcomes for young adults with hazardous or harmful drinking.

A multi-disciplinary team of researchers at the University of Pittsburgh, led by Dr. Brian Suffoletto, designed and tested an automated and adaptive behavioral intervention delivered through mobile phone text messaging. For 12 weeks, young adults with hazardous drinking behavior conducted dialog through text messaging and were either given no feedback or adaptive feedback based on their current drinking reports and interest in setting a goal to reduce their drinking.

Researchers found that young adults provided alcohol consumption data with high fidelity and found the program useful and safe. Those young adults who received feedback had a significant reduction in their binge episodes and drinks per drinking day. Those who were willing to set a weekly goal to reduce their drinking had a significantly lower rate of risky drinking the following week.

These finding were presented at the 34th Annual Scientific Meeting of the Research Society on Alcoholism (RSoA), at the International Network on Brief Interventions for Alcohol Problems (INEBRIA), and will be published online in January and in print as a highlighted article in the March issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh now plan a multi-site investigation of the intervention in over 1000 young adults who present to the Emergency Department, examining reductions in alcohol use and related harms over a 12 month period.

If found to be effective, programs using mobile communication technology have the potential to reduce the national burden of hazardous drinking on the health of young adults.

This research was made possible by a directed research grant from The Emergency Medicine Foundation, who was excited to partner with The Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility on this key initiative.