Digital alcohol advice may help to reduce drinking

A study from NIHR SPHR researchers at Fuse has found that people drink less if they receive advice about alcohol from a computer, mobile phone or the internet compared to people who do not get this information, a Fuse study has found.

The research led by academics from Fuse (the Centre for Translational Research in Public Health) at Newcastle University, in partnership with University of Bristol and University College London, found 55 trials which compared the drinking of people getting digital advice about alcohol from their gadgets against those that did not.

The amount that people cut down by was about 1.5 pints of beer or a third of a bottle of wine each week. This difference was seen at one, six and 12 months after the advice was delivered.

There was not enough information to determine if advice is better delivered via computers, telephones or the internet.

The researchers also found 14 studies which recorded people’s views about how well they could use and understand advice delivered by computers, mobile phones or the internet.

People’s use of technology to access advice about alcohol appeared to depend on three linked features:

  • How easy the technology is to use and understand and how attractive it is. People liked uncluttered screens, coloured pictures and the ability to check in regularly or be sent reminders.
  • The type of advice being delivered. Many people found it useful (and sometimes surprising) to get feedback on how much they drank, and they liked a friendly rather than a ‘telling off’ approach.
  • People also preferred advice that fit in with their day-to-day lives or view of the world. Some felt that the advice was meant for people unlike them and so it did not seem relevant.

Overall people were positive about advice delivered by computers, mobile phone or the internet. Some individuals preferred to talk to a doctor to help keep track of their drinking and some were nervous about entering personal information into computers. However, others preferred the anonymity of using digital technology and felt it helped them to be more honest about their drinking.

Eileen Kaner, Professor of Public Health and Primary Care Research at Newcastle University, said: “Heavy drinking causes over 60 diseases, as well as many accidents, injuries and early deaths each year.

“We know that people can benefit from advice or counselling about their drinking. Even short sessions of advice given by general practitioners or nurses have led people to reduce their alcohol intake.

“However, many people are often too busy to visit their doctor or nurse, and some feel embarrassed about discussing their drinking directly with other people. Many people use computers, mobile telephones or the internet to seek advice about alcohol.

“We wanted to know if these gadgets can help people reduce their drinking and also what features of digital advice are more or less helpful to users.”