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Text messages show promise in curbing drinking
December 15th, 2011
04:32 PM ET

Text messages show promise in curbing drinking

The text messaging that can drive young people to distraction - or worse, if they're actually behind the wheel - can also be harnessed to promote better health and safety, a small new study suggests.

In the study, 15 heavy drinking young adults who sent and received weekly text messages tracking their alcohol consumption reported drinking less at the end of the 12-week program than they did at the beginning. By comparison, a group of similar 18- to 24-year-olds who sent but didn't receive texts and a control group that sent no texts at all didn't manage to scale back their drinking as effectively.

The findings were published today on the website of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. Although the study should be considered preliminary, given its size, the researchers say that text-message programs are a promising strategy for reducing problem drinking, as well as other dangerous or unhealthy behaviors.

Health.com: How alcohol affects your body

Text-based interventions are an example of what's known as "participatory health," says lead author Brian Suffoletto, M.D., an assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University of Pittsburgh.

"In traditional health models, patients have been in the passenger seats in healthcare. Now... they become drivers of their own health improvement. We really think this innovation is an example of not just assisting, but engaging in self-management."

Suffoletto and his colleagues asked the young people in the intervention group - who, like the other study participants, were identified as problem drinkers after landing in the ER - to send weekly texts tallying their drinking.

Depending on how much they drank that week, the participants received automated replies that either provided positive feedback ("Keep up the good work!") or urged them to limit their drinks during the following week. Those who agreed to a limit received a follow-up text suggesting strategies for responsible drinking, such as counting drinks and spacing them apart.

Health.com: Alcohol myths busted

During the last month of the study, the texters reported drinking heavily on 3.4 fewer days than they had in the month prior to the study. And when they did drink, they had about two fewer drinks, on average. (Heavy drinking was defined asconsuming five-plus drinks in a 24-hour period.)

The text messages incorporated two hallmarks of traditional alcohol counseling - self-monitoring of drinking behavior and the setting of short-term goals - but in some respects they may have improved on traditional counseling, Suffoletto says.

The study participants received immediate feedback on their drinking (instead of weekly or monthly feedback from a counselor), which may reinforce positive behaviors and provide a better picture of drinking habits. "Cell phones have become an appendage of our bodies, so for an assessment of actual drinking behavior, it potentially becomes more accurate than recalling [drinking]," Suffoletto says.

Health.com: Binge drinking may harm learning, memory

And the relative anonymity of text messaging - the participants were identified by an ID number only - may encourage candor.

"Prior data has shown that young adults are willing to disclose a lot more information through something like [a] short-message service than they would if they were face-to-face with a clinician," Suffoletto says.

The researchers envision that text message programs like those used in the study could be successfully applied to problematic behaviors besides drinking, such as illicit drug use or unprotected sex, and could even be used to encourage people to eat better, exercise more, and generally adopt and maintain healthy lifestyles.

Copyright Health Magazine 2011

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Filed under: Alcohol • Health.com

soundoff (56 Responses)
  1. Bobby

    Stop advertising Booze on television.. Yes it is legal and I am not for prohibition, but stop treating it like candy and as something one needs to feel normal or socialize.. Alcohol is a drug and a toxin and should not be advertised to kids through sporting events.. Alcohol deaths/ intoxication are a problem on College Campuses and the NCAA should be ashamed for allowing alcohol to sponsor it"s sporting events.. This is greed over morals..

    December 15, 2011 at 17:18 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Monk

      You gotta realize with the college scene, that there is a lot of new drinkers (read new as 'new legal') and you can't blame the companies for going for easy marketing and easy sells. I mean, It truly is messed up, but what can you do? Sit down, have a beer and rel....oh crap they got to me to.

      December 16, 2011 at 08:37 | Report abuse |
    • thizz

      Its the American way. The vast majority loves to drink, myself included.

      December 16, 2011 at 09:07 | Report abuse |
    • dom625

      I completely agree about the alcohol advertising. Cigarette advertising was banned long ago because it portrayed smoking as "cool" and supposedly made people want to start. But I see no one complaining about the portrayals of parties and fun taking place on alcohol commercials. No one went after the Budweiser frogs (Joe Camel was persecuted) and bikini-clad models cavorting on the beach are apparently okay. What they don't show is the wrecks caused by drunk driving, the morning hangovers, or the puddles of vomit leading to alcohol poisoning. I guess it's okay to drink to excess as long as you don't touch a cigarette.

      December 16, 2011 at 09:45 | Report abuse |
    • KBP

      Seems like the perfect vehicle to curb texting while driving, too.

      December 16, 2011 at 13:51 | Report abuse |
    • Dude

      Compare the scene in beer commercials with actual bars. Very different. People staring blankly down at a beer speaking to no one. Self absorbed on their own personal misery. vs Bikini clad models appearing at the sound of a beer opening.

      December 17, 2011 at 05:45 | Report abuse |
  2. Rickydick

    Alcohol should not be advertised anywhere. Over 8,000 people die each year in auto accidents caused by drunk drivers. People cause accidents. Over 3,000 die in auto accidents while using their cell phones. Now for the law of 2,000: EACH YEAR more than 2,000 kids drown in their back yard pool; more than 2,000 people die in bicycle accidents & more than 2,000 people are ACCIDENTLY killed with a gun.

    December 15, 2011 at 18:54 | Report abuse | Reply
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    (Heavy drinking was defined as consuming five-plus drinks in a 24-hour period.)- lol. That's not a lot at all.

    December 16, 2011 at 09:05 | Report abuse | Reply
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      Hell, 5 drinks in 12 hours isn't heavy drinking.

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    I am writing about aclhool, anxiety and stress and really need some information to examine each of these. If you could please respond to these questions it would greatly be appreciated. Thanks so much for taking the time to stop and read this:)Why do you think other people drink aclhool?1. To relax2. Improve sleep3. Increase confidence4. For the taste5. Socially acceptable6. Religious belief7. To make them attractive8. Romantic/Sexual reasonsYour answer (select one # from above list) _____________1 Do you feel you are a normal drinker? ( normal drink as much or less than most other people)2 Has your drinking ever resulted in your being hospitalized in a psychiatric ward?3. Have you ever awakened the morning after some drinking the night before and found that you could not remember a part of the evening?4. After heavy drinking have you ever had delirium tremens (D.T.\'s), severe shaking, visual or auditory (hearing) hallucinations?5. Has drinking ever created problems between you and a near relative or close friend?6 Does any near relative or close friend ever worry or complain about your drinking?7. Have you ever neglected your obligations, your family, or your work for two or more days in a row because you were drinking?8. Have you ever been hospitalized because of drinking?9. Have you ever gone to anyone for help about your drinking?10. Do you ever feel guilty about your drinking?11. Have you been arrested more than once for driving under the influence of aclhool?12. Have you ever gotten into trouble at work because of drinking?13. Have you ever lost friends because of your drinking?14. Can you stop drinking without difficulty after one or two drinks?15. Have you ever lost a job because of drinking?16. Have you ever been arrested, even for a few hours because of other behavior while drinking? (If Yes, how many times____________)17. Have you ever been told you have liver trouble such as cirrhosis?18 Have you ever gotten into physical fights when drinking?19. Has any family member or close friend gone to anyone for help about your drinking?20. Do you drink before noon fairly often?21. Have you ever gone to any doctor, social worker, clergyman or mental health clinic for help with any emotional problem in which drinking was part of the problem?22. Have you ever attended a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)?WITHIN THE LAST MONTH HAVE YOU:Please respond “Yes” or “No” for each question.23 Did you hold your breath, have breathing pauses, or stop breathing in your sleep?24 Did you snore loudly?25 Did you have restless or “crawling” feelings in your legs at night that went away if you moved your legs?26. Did you have nightmares, or did you scream walk, punch, or kick in your sleep?27. Did the following things disturb you in your sleep: pain, other physical symptoms, worries, medications, or other (specify)?28. Did you feel anxious29. Did you fall asleep unintentionally or have to fight to stay awake during the day?30. Did work or other activities prevent you from getting enough sleep?31. Did you have repeated rhythmic leg jerks or leg twitches during your sleep?32. Did you have difficulty falling asleep?33. Did sleep difficulties or daytime sleepiness interfere with your daily activities??USING A SCALE FROM 1=“not at all untypical of me” TO 5=”very typical of me” FOR EACH BELOW1=NEVER 2=RARELY 3=SOMETIMES 4=OCCASSIONALY 5=OFTENWrite the number from the above list that most likely represents your behavior.33. Many situations make me worry.34. I worry about projects until they are all done35. Once I start worrying, I cannot stop.36. I worry all the time.37. If I do not have enough time to do everything, I do not worry about it.________38. I know I should not worry about things, but I just cannot help it.39. As soon as I finish one task, I start to worry about everything else I have to do.40. When I am under pressure I worry a lot41. I do not tend to worry about things.__________42. I notice that I have been worrying about things.43. I never worry about anything44. I never worry about anything.45. I am always worrying about something.46. I find it easy to dismiss worrisome thoughts47. I have been a worrier all my life.48. When there is nothing more I can do about a concern, I do not worry about it anymore.49. My worries overwhelm me.__________

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.