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Reducing Risky College Drinking Through The Use of Cutting Edge mHealth Technology

Key Finding and Impact

Apps to address dangerous alcohol use in college age adults may be as effective, and more cost-effective, as traditional in-person interventions.

Heavy alcohol use and its related consequences are major health problems for U.S. universities.

High-risk drinking in college students has dangerous and numerous consequences. Addressing alcohol use in college students has often relied on in-person interventions, which are expensive, difficult to sustain, and often inaccessible. Recognizing the almost universal use of smartphones (SP) and “apps” (applications) in this young adult population, researchers at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte hoped to reduce high-risk drinking through the use of a proven, evidence-based alcohol intervention using mHealth technology.

Using an adapted Brief Motivational Interviewing Smartphone App (BMI+SP) as a real-time alcohol intervention.

In addition to academic failure, the consequences of alcohol abuse can include blackouts, violence, suicide, HIV-related sexual risk-taking, and sexual assault.

Dr. Kazemi and her national interdisciplinary team of researchers, including experts in psychology, computer science, mathematics, and nursing, aimed to address the cost and accessibility challenges of in-person alcohol interventions by developing BMI+SP, a smartphone app that uses an adapted Brief Motivational Interviewing (BMI) intervention to encourage users to change their high-risk drinking behaviors. BMI+SP has multiple interactive components designed to engage the user and provide customized messaging based on user characteristics. Dr. Kazemi and team found a significant reduction in alcohol use and alcohol-related consequences in students who used the app for 6 weeks compared to students who did not use the app.

mHealth apps can reach youth to reduce alcohol use and intervention costs.

This study suggested that mHealth apps can help to address dangerous alcohol use in young adults. BMI+SP and similar apps have the potential to reduce alcohol intervention costs, reach more individuals than traditional in-person interventions, and be adapted for use across other areas of health concerns. Dr. Kazemi reports that these findings will inform future, more extensive studies looking at the usability, sustainability, efficacy, and cost-effectiveness of mHealth interventions to address hazardous drinking among young adults. This innovative approach also has the potential to be translated to address other important health issues in vulnerable populations.

Research Details