Friday, 17 June 2016

Smartphones provide a smart approach to curb binge drinking in young people

SPHPM Research Officer, Tutor and PhD Candidate Cassandra Wright is undertaking her PhD study on alcohol consumption and new media in young people. Her study involves trialling the use of personalised text messages to help young Australians to curb their binge drinking and has recently garnered widespread media attention.

Binge drinking in Australia continues to be a significant public health problem, especially among young people, with alcohol still rated as the most harmful drug for communities according to a 2010 paper that developed a matrix of harm for drugs of abuse.

Cassandra Wright’s PhD is focused on further developing a method which has shown good efficacy for reducing drinking, using novel smartphone technology to develop an intervention system that takes place while participants are actually out consuming alcohol. The innovative study is unique in its participatory approach, with young people fully involved in the design process in order to make it more acceptable and relevant to them.

“The idea behind the study is to build on previous research which collects data from young people while they're actually out drinking and to give them customised feedback during the night,” said Cassandra Wright.

Her intervention pilot study involves hourly mobile assessment and feedback. During a night out, participants receive an hourly SMS (text message) reminder to complete a very brief mobile-web survey. The questionnaire then collects hourly reports of their alcohol consumption and spending, location and mood (in addition to some extra information at the start of the night, including their plans and key motivations).

In response to this data they will receive an individually tailored feedback message via SMS which aims to help them keep track of their night, slow down their drinking and avoid harmful consequences of drinking. Each message is tailored to the time of night, location, gender and personal motivations of the participant, and also provides feedback on cumulative drinking and spending.

Findings from the pilot study have helped her and supervisors Senior Research Fellow Dr Megan Lim and Professor Paul Dietze to secure a VicHealth Innovations grant for $100,000 and a community grant for $35,000 from Gandel Philanthropy to conduct a randomised controlled trial which is currently underway.

"There is a lot of evidence that shows that individualising messages about health makes them more effective, but this is the only study that's been able to collect alcohol-related data and use it to deliver messages tailored specifically to the context of where the participants are and what they're doing,” said Cassandra Wright.

“In addition, our previous work has shown that if we can reduce the amount that young people consume by even 2.5 drinks per night, with the average consumption being 13 drinks in a single session for young people, then we can actually halve the risk of serious harms including assaults and injuries,” she said.

Cassandra said that even if this kind of intervention occurs only once, it can have a long term effect on a young person’s drinking behaviours, which means they don’t need to track people every single night they go out in order to see huge reductions in alcohol-related harm.

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