This story is over 5 years old.

Experts Say This Text Message Could Stop Teens from Binge Drinking

A new study from the University of Pittsburgh claims that sending text messages querying weekend drinking plans to young adults may help reduce alcohol-related injuries.
Phoebe Hurst
London, GB
November 25, 2015, 1:06pm

The slide from Thursday night's just-one-drink-oh-alright-a-round-of-shots-can't-hurt to the TGIF vibes that start around 11.32 on Friday morning and escalate into pre-dinner beers and two-for-one cocktails has an inevitability akin to that of the rotating tides or changing seasons. After working the nine-to-five all week, the passage from office to pub to bar(s) and ill-advised kebab shop is basically predestined.


But experts say this perpetual weekend drinking cycle can be broken. And all it takes is a simple text message.

A new study from emergency medicine and psychiatry researchers at the University of Pittsburgh claims that sending text messages to young adults may reduce binge drinking and alcohol-related injuries.

Published in the PLOS ONE science and medicine journal and supported by the Emergency Medicine Foundation, the research involved 700 participants between the ages of 18 and 25, all of whom had been discharged from four urban emergency departments in western Pennsylvania.

READ MORE: Your Adolescent Binge-Drinking Has Ruined Your Brain Forever

The participants were randomised into three groups and received differing text messages and levels of support. Over the course of 12 weeks, researchers gave the first "control" group standard care but no texts. The second "self-monitoring" group received a text message on Sundays querying their alcohol intake but no feedback aimed at reducing alcohol intake.

The final group received the full intervention program, which included a text message on Thursdays asking about weekend drinking plans. If participants responded by saying that they had a big one coming up (i.e. more than five drinks during any 24-hour period for men and more than four for women), they received a text expressing concern and asking if they would be willing to set a goal to limit their alcohol intake.


Those who were reluctant to set goals received a message encouraging them to reflect on their decision, such as: "It's OK to have mixed feelings about reducing your alcohol use. Consider making a list of all the reasons you might want to change."

Kinda different from the wine glass emoji and question mark you usually send out to the group chat on Thursday nights.

On Sunday, participants on the full intervention program then received a text asking about their weekend alcohol intake, as well as "tailored feedback messages" to support low alcohol consumption and encourage reflection on how boozed up they may have been.

Six months after the trial ended, the study claims that these participants reported an average of one less binge drinking day per month. They also found a 12 percent reduced incidence of binge drinking. In comparison, neither the control group or self-monitoring group—both of whom received minimal text messages—reported a reduction in alcohol consumption.

READ MORE: A Buzz-Killing Pill Won't Stop Young People from Binge-Drinking

Brian Suffoletto, assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University of Pittsburgh and one of the study's authors hopes that the research could be used to develop new alcohol intervention services for young people.

He said: "Given the low cost to send text messages and the capacity to deliver them to almost every at-risk young adult, a text message-based intervention targeting binge drinking could have a public health impact on reducing both immediate and long-term health problems."

Next time someone pings you the standard Friday night "You out?" Whatsapp, spare a thought for those young adults who may one day be fending off well-timed alcohol intervention messages.