Targeted approach using texts controls alcohol abuse

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Text messaging may help reduce social or binge drinking according to research done at The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research.

Results show “that when drinkers received adaptive tailored texts, their drinking reduction was similar to many in-person moderation treatments,” researchers note in a study published in the journal PLOS ONE.

Results from the study are important to healthcare IT executives because it suggests that technology use may improve treatment of behavioral disorders.

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“Behavioral health issues such as heavy drinking often require multiple support systems, and recent evidence suggests that text messaging may help to reduce problem drinking as an extension to in-person services,” according to Fred Muench, lead author of the study and Director of Digital Health Interventions for the Behavioral Health Department of Northwell Health. “But very little is known about the effectiveness of remote messaging on problem drinking as a stand-alone intervention. There also is little known about how different types of messages may improve outcomes in those seeking to moderate their alcohol consumption.”

For this study, four types of texts were sent at 6 p.m. each day, with specific patients receiving a text tailored to them, such as a message asking a patient to think about all they have lost through drinking or to consider what they can gain if their drinking is controlled. Tailored messages might include ones sent on Friday night to give encouragement over the weekend, or sending a text to patients at the times where they report they are most likely to overindulge.

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Patients receiving “adaptive tailored texts” that included usual messages but also additional information, reduced weekly alcohol consumption by 9.64 drinks, compared with a 2.5-drink decrease in the control group.

Researchers at the end of the study asked patients if they wanted to receive information for another 12 weeks, and 80 percent agreed. The study is available here.

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