Learn more about the history of this research into new methods of binge drinking intervention

News articles cover incidents of dangerous overconsumption among college students and the rise in text messaging and social media tools as a way of communicating every day.

Mobile phone text messaging (SMS) is a common form of communication among young adults and has been shown to be effective at providing behavioral support to young adult drinkers after Emergency Department (ED) discharge.  At the same time, heavy episodic (binge) drinking continues to be common among young adults and can lead to injury and illness.  Young adults who seek care in the Emergency Department (ED) may be disproportionately affected with binge drinking behavior, and therefore provide doctors with an opportunity to reduce future risk through screening, brief intervention and referral to treatment (SBIRT).

The efficacy of text messaging programs to reduce binge drinking remains unknown. A grant from The Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility will allow doctors and researchers to conduct a randomized trial using three different groups. A sample of adults aged 18-25 years admitted to one of three EDs in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area and willing to participate in the study will be screened for hazardous alcohol consumption. Participants identified as hazardous drinkers will then be allocated to either 12-weeks of weekly text messaging based drinking assessments with feedback, text messaging based drinking assessments without feedback, or a control group.

Those participants who receive assessment and feedback will be asked to provide pre-weekend drinking intention as well as post-weekend consumption via text message and will receive feedback messages focused on health consequences of alcohol consumption, personalized normative feedback, protective drinking strategies and goal-setting. Following the initial 12-weeks follow-up data on alcohol consumption and injury related to alcohol will be collected among participants at 3-, 6-, and 9-months later.

The primary outcome for the study is binge drinking days (≥4 drinks for women; ≥5 drinks for men) during the previous month, and the main secondary outcome is the proportion of participants who report any injury related to alcohol in the prior 3 months. This study will test the hypothesis that a mobile phone text-messaging program will result in immediate and durable reductions in binge drinking among at-risk young adults. By comparing results from an intervention group to an assessment-only group and to a control group, we will be able to separate the effect of assessment reactivity.  

By collecting pre-weekend drinking intentions and post-weekend consumption data in the assessment and feedback, researchers will be able to better understand the mechanism of change in reducing dangerous overconsumption. If found to be effective, this innovative intervention could easily be developed into a stand-alone intervention program to provide widespread support with minimal disruption to normal clinical practices. Additionally, it could easily be included as one element in a multi-component intervention, such as a “booster” to traditional in-person counseling interventions.

By incorporating longitudinal assessments of drinking behavior in a patient’s natural environment through text messaging, stepped-care models could be built where individuals who continue to report hazardous use after program exposure could then be referred directly to a help line or counselor.

Brian Suffoletto, MD, MS
Assistant Professor
University of Pittsburgh
Principal Investigator/Project Director