Want to drink less? There may soon be an app for that

Alcohol abuses remains a serious health issue in Ireland, with over 50 per cent of drinkers engage in ‘hazardous’ drinking

Specialised mobile phone apps may be able to help problem drinkers reduce their alcohol consumption.

This is according to a new study by researchers in Sweden’s Linköping University, who developed and evaluated a digital tool which helps individuals reduce their alcohol intake on their own.

According to the Health Research Board, 52.3 per cent of Irish drinkers are considered ‘hazardous’ drinkers.

The researchers behind the Swedish study, which has been published in the journal BMC Medicine, looked for a new way to reach those who want help to drink less – and digital support could be very useful in that regard.

To investigate whether their digital tool could contribute to reduced alcohol intake, the researchers sought out people when they were motivated to reduce their alcohol consumption.

The study participants were recruited online through targeted adverts shown to people looking for information about how to drink less alcohol.

Those who chose to participate in the study were randomly allocated into two groups. One group was immediately given access to the new digital tool. The other group was offered existing web-based resources and was asked to motivate themselves to reduce their consumption. They later received access to the digital tool.

Those who were immediately offered the digital support received a message every Sunday. In a neutral tone, the message encouraged them to assess their alcohol consumption during the past week.

After participants had reported their drinking, they received feedback and access to several tools.

Among other things, the tools included help for participants to set goals for themselves and keep track of their alcohol consumption over time.

Participants were also able to learn more about the social risks of being under the influence of alcohol, and about the risks to one’s own health. The participants could write messages to themselves and choose when to receive them – for example, a reminder to take it easy with the drinking on a certain day or a motivational reminder about why they wanted to drink less.

It turned out that the effect of the digital support tool, after four months’ use, was comparable to other digital interventions from international studies – but also a little better than the evidence for face-to-face interventions.

Similar apps already exist for smoking cessation – technology may soon help drinkers put down the bottle for good too.

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