Digital support for reduced alcohol consumption

A digital support tool on your phone can help if you want to reduce your alcohol consumption. This has been shown in a study by researchers at Linköping University. They have developed and evaluated a digital tool which helps individuals reduce their alcohol intake on their own.

“At the beginning of the study, the participants indicated that it was very important for them to reduce their alcohol consumption. But most indicated that they didn’t know how to do it. Those who got access to the digital support began to feel more self-assured about how they could go about actually changing their behaviour,” says Marcus Bendtsen, who has led the study and is associate professor at the Department of Health, Medicine and Caring Sciences at Linköping University.

Marcus Bendtsen believes that there is too little discussion about concrete methods of creating long-lasting change. Warning messages and communicating the risks of various behaviours aren’t enough. In Sweden, the sale of alcohol is regulated by the state, and the tax on alcohol is relatively high. Despite this, alcohol consumption has remained at the same level for a long time. Around 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, stroke and heart problems is considerably higher. People who are risky drinkers are also at a much higher risk of other physical and psychological negative consequences, and so are family members and other people close to the drinker . The researchers behind the study, which has been published in the journal BMC Medicine, looked for a new way to reach those who want help to drink less.

“People who want to quit smoking are encouraged and supported by those around them. But there is stigma around wanting to stop drinking alcohol. There is a common conception that one should be able to handle one’s own alcohol consumption, and many don’t seek help, even if they want to change their behaviour,” says Marcus Bendtsen.

Digital support, such as a mobile app or support online, could be one way to reach more people who need help. Digital tools can be scaled up and used by many, without costs increasing much. They can also work better for people who do not want to turn to the healthcare system, because a digital tool can be used without personal contact. No one else needs to know that you use the tool, which reduces the stigma barrier for seeking help.

To investigate whether their digital tool could contribute to reduced alcohol intake, the researchers wanted to reach out to people in the very moment when they were motivated to reduce their alcohol consumption. The study participants were recruited online through targeted adverts shown to people looking for information about how to drink less alcohol. Those who chose to participate in the study were randomly allocated into two groups. One group was immediately given access to the new digital tool. The other group was offered existing web-based resources, and was asked to motivate themselves to reduce their consumption. They later received access to the digital tool.

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