Widely covered across the news, a recent study found that a smartphone app to help reduce alcohol consumption among students led to them consuming 10% less alcohol a week and having 11% fewer days a month on which they engaged in heavy episodic drinking.
The study authors wrote that:
Compared with the group who were not given the intervention, providing access to the app for 12 months was effective at reducing the average drinking volume of university students who had self-reported unhealthy alcohol use at baseline.
The intervention required fewer resources than face-to-face interventions (with no need to hire and train specialist healthcare professionals to perform screening), brief interventions (with no need for a dedicated space on campus), and use of existing communication channels to reach large groups of people.
In an accompanying editorial, IAS’s Dr Sadie Boniface and Oxford Brookes’ Dr Emma Davies urged caution:
The significant effect of this trial is positive, but these kinds of interventions are no magic fix in the context of international goals, such as the WHO’s target of a 20% relative reduction in the harmful use of alcohol by 2030.
A report from 2021 by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development recommends introducing so-called prevention packages of policies to prevent harmful alcohol use.
Mirroring this, the Institute of Alcohol Studies in the UK talks about reaching a critical mass effect to escalate the reduction in alcohol harms. This effect can be met through a coherent strategy of complementary evidence based policies and interventions, such as reducing alcohol’s availability, affordability, and marketing, alongside expanding access to treatment and support for alcohol use disorders.