Texts from a doctor cut binge drinking by half

First we found out that texting improves spelling and grammar, now it turns out it could save your liver, too. According to a new study published in Annals of Emergency Medicine, young adults whose history of binge drinking landed them in the emergency room cut their alcohol intake by as much as 50% after receiving follow-up texts by medical staff.

Researchers selected 765 emergency patients aged 18-24 who had visited the ER due to excessive drinking. For 12 weeks, a third received text messages asking them drinking-related questions and providing feedback, a third received the messages but no feedback, and a third got nothing/nada/bupkis. The group that got queries and feedback via text message reported reducing the days they drank by 51% and the number of drinks they typically drank by 31%. The other two groups drank more than ever.

According to lead author Dr Brian Suffoletto from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, as many as half of the 50,000 18-24 year olds who visit ERs in the U.S each day are abusing alcohol. A recent report from the World Health Organisation found that 16% of drinkers worldwide indulge in binge drinking, defined as five or more drinks per day for men and four or more drinks per day for women. In the UK, that number is 28%, making us one of the most heavy-drinking countries in the world. Yeah, that’s not good.

But this study suggests that support for changing unhealthy behaviour doesn’t necessarily need to be in-depth or even in-person to be effective. Texting has previously been used by crisis teams and support services working with suicidal teens, as the urge to reply to a text appears to take precedence over suicidal thoughts, at least until someone can be directed to further help.

I don’t want to exaggerate, but it could turn out that texting is the answer to everything.

Image via Michele Ursino’s Twitter.

Diane Shipley