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Recent study suggests text message communications help reduce binge drinking, serve as intervention

In a first-of-its-kind trial, funded by the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility in partnership with the Emergency Medicine Foundation, using text messaging to communicate with young adults about drinking after being discharged from emergency rooms reduced the number of drinks they later consumed and the number of binge-drinking episodes.

Each day in the U.S., more than 50,000 adults ages 18 to 24 visit hospital emergency departments, and up to half have hazardous alcohol-use patterns. The emergency department provides a unique opportunity to screen young adults for drinking problems and to intervene to reduce future risk. Unfortunately, emergency providers rarely have the time or training to counsel these at-risk young adults. Given the popularity of using text messaging to communicate, especially among young adults, it seemed like a natural way to reach young adults to help them adopt less dangerous drinking behaviors.

In our study, 765 young adults who were identified with past hazardous drinking behavior in four urban emergency departments in western Pennsylvania were randomized to one of three groups. For 12 weeks, one-third received text messages prompting them to respond to drinking-related queries and received text messages in return offering feedback on their answers.  The feedback was tailored to strengthen their low-risk drinking plan or goal or to promote reflection on either their drinking plan or their decision not to set a low-risk goal. One-third received only text message queries about their drinking (but no feedback) and one-third received no text messages. At three months, participants who were exposed to the text-message intervention had decreased their dinking occasions by 1-2 per month from their baseline of 3-4. Nearly 15 percent of the intervention group reported no drinking occasions at all.  Young adults in the text-message intervention group also reported a reduction in the number drinks consumer per weekend drinking day.

Illicit drugs and opiates grab all the headlines, but alcohol remains the fourth leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. If we can intervene in a meaningful way in the health and habits of people when they are young, we could make a real dent in that tragic statistic.  Alcohol may bring them to the ER, but we can do our part to keep them from becoming repeat visitors.

The findings will be published in the August 2014 issue of Annals of Emergency Medicine and are now available for free online

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 young adults who binge drink.

*The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility (FAAR) or any FAAR member.*