Digital help to reduce alcohol consumption — ScienceDaily
A digital support tool on your phone can help you if you want to reduce your alcohol consumption. This has been demonstrated in a study conducted by researchers from Linköping University. They developed and evaluated a digital tool that helps individuals reduce their alcohol consumption themselves.
“At the start of the study, participants indicated that it was very important for them to reduce their alcohol consumption. But most indicated that they did not know how to do it. Those who had access to support digital technology began to feel more confident about how they could actually change their behavior,” says Marcus Bendtsen, who led the study and is an associate professor in the Department of Health, Medicine, and of mutual aid sciences at the University of Linköping.
Marcus Bendtsen thinks there is too little discussion about concrete methods to create lasting change. Warning messages and risk communication of various behaviors are not enough. In Sweden, the sale of alcohol is regulated by the state and the tax on alcohol is relatively high. Despite this, alcohol consumption remained at the same level for a long time. About 3 in 10 adults, or 3 million Swedes, drink alcohol in such a way that it is classified as risky drinking. In such cases, the risk of diseases such as cancer, strokes and heart problems is considerably higher. People who are high-risk drinkers are also at much higher risk of other negative physical and psychological consequences, as are family members and others close to the drinker. The researchers behind the study, which was published in the journal BMC Medicine, looked for a new way to reach those who want help drinking less.
“People who want to quit smoking are encouraged and supported by those around them. But there is a stigma around wanting to quit drinking alcohol. There is a common understanding that one should be able to manage one’s own drinking alcohol, and many don’t seek help, even if they want to change their behavior,” says Marcus Bendtsen.
Digital support, such as a mobile app or online support, could be a way to reach more people who need help. Digital tools can be extended and used by many people, without increasing the costs much. They may also work better for people who don’t want to turn to the healthcare system, as a digital tool can be used without personal contact. No one else needs to know you are using the tool, reducing the stigma barrier to seeking help.
To determine if their digital tool could help reduce their alcohol consumption, the researchers wanted to reach people at the very moment they were motivated to reduce their alcohol consumption. Study participants were recruited online through targeted advertisements shown to people looking for information on how to drink less alcohol. Those who chose to participate in the study were randomly divided into two groups. One group immediately had access to the new digital tool. The other group was offered existing web resources and asked to motivate themselves to reduce their consumption. They then had access to the digital tool.
Those who were immediately offered the digital medium received a message every Sunday. In a neutral tone, the message encourages them to evaluate their alcohol consumption over the past week. Once participants reported their alcohol consumption, they received feedback and had access to several tools. Among other things, the tools included helping participants set goals and track their alcohol consumption over time. Participants were also able to learn about the social risks of being under the influence of alcohol and the risks to one’s own health. Participants could write messages to themselves and choose when to receive them – for example, a reminder to calm down with drinking on a certain day or a motivational reminder about why they wanted to drink less.
The effect of the digital assistive tool, after four months of use, was found to be comparable to other digital interventions from international studies – but also slightly better than evidence from face-to-face interventions face to face.
“Those who had access to the digital tool had approximately 25% less alcohol consumption than the group that did not, which is a slightly larger effect than expected. This type of tool does not will not change the overall societal situation with regard to alcohol consumption, but it is a very good tool for people who want to change their own lives,” says Marcus Bendtsen.
Researchers are currently developing an app to make the tool available to people who need it. They also want to adapt the application to individual needs. There was a wide age range among the study participants, and the reasons for drinking alcohol ranged from 18 to 80 years old. The researchers are also doing health economics calculations to see what the effects would be on health care savings and quality of life over a 30-40 year period if the tool were widely used.
The study was funded with support from the Swedish Alcohol Retail Monopoly’s Alcohol Research Council. Linköping University paid for the open access publication.
In the risk zone?
There is no such thing as “safe” drinking, but the term risky drinking is used when there is a marked increased risk of negative consequences.
In Sweden, a standard drink is defined as 12 grams of alcohol, which is equivalent to a bottle of regular beer (5%), a small glass of wine (13%) or a drink with 4 centiliters of alcohol (40% ).
It is considered risky drinking if a man drinks 14 or more standard drinks per week, or 5 or more standard drinks on one occasion at least once a month.
Risky drinking among women, on the other hand, is defined as 9 or more standard drinks per week, or 4 or more standard drinks on a single occasion.