INTRODUCTION: Recent evidence suggests that text messaging may help to reduce problem drinking as an extension to in-person services, but very little is known about the effectiveness of remote messaging on problem drinking as a stand-alone intervention, or how different types of messages may improve drinking outcomes in those seeking to moderate their alcohol consumption.
METHODS: We conducted an exploratory, single-blind randomized controlled pilot study comparing four different types of alcohol reduction-themed text messages sent daily to weekly drink self-tracking texts in order to determine their impact on drinking outcomes over a 12-week period in 152 participants (≈ 30 per group) seeking to reduce their drinking on the internet. Messaging interventions included: weekly drink self-tracking mobile assessment texts (MA), loss-framed texts (LF), gain-framed texts (GF), static tailored texts (ST), and adaptive tailored texts (TA). Poisson and least squares regressions were used to compare differences between each active messaging group and the MA control.
RESULTS: When adjusting for baseline drinking, participants in all messaging groups except GF significantly reduced the number of drinks consumed per week and the number of heavy drinking days compared to MA. Only the TA and GF groups were significantly different from MA in reducing the number of drinking days. While the TA group yielded the largest effect sizes on all outcome measures, there were no significant differences between active messaging groups on any outcome measure. 79.6% of individuals enrolled in the study wanted to continue receiving messages for an additional 12 weeks at the end of the study.
DISCUSSION: Results of this pilot study indicate that remote automated text messages delivered daily can help adult problem drinkers reduce drinking frequency and quantity significantly more than once-a-week self-tracking messages only, and that tailored adaptive texts yield the largest effect sizes across outcomes compared to MA. Larger samples are needed to understand differences between messaging interventions and to target their mechanisms of efficacy.