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According to recent studies, more than half of each day’s 50,000 ER patients aged 18-25 are in for alcohol and hazardous drinking-related crises. More than a third of these will report that they have an alcohol abuse or dependence problem. So what do we do about it? Well, thanks to the men and women of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in Pittsburgh, PA., and ingenious use of our own cell phones, that number could very well find itself cut in half. Says Brian Suffoletto, M.D., co-author of the study via PsychCentral:

The emergency department provides a unique setting to screen young adults for drinking problems and to engage with them via their preferred mode of communication to reduce future use.”

Researchers began collecting data by enlisting the help of 765 young adult emergency room patients with a history of hazardous drinking. They split the one group into three; over the course of a 12-week period they sent text messages to one-third with question-and-answer queries about their drinking habits, as well as text response feedback to the ‘answer’ portion. The feedback was tailored to strengthen their low-risk drinking plan or goal or to promote reflection on either their drinking plan or their decision not to set a low-risk goal.

The second group received queries about their drinking habits, but no text message feedback, while the third group received no text messages at all.  The results were eye-opening.

It was found that the group receiving the queries and feedback reduced their self-reported binge drinking habits by about 51%, while self-reported drinks per day were reduced by 31%! So, okay, staying on top of a person and engaging them on their drinking habits works. What about the group who received only text messages (calling to mind the messages a high schooler might receive from a parent on a Friday night—“Don’t drink, stay safe, love you! xoxo”)?

According to the report, the text-only and no-text group both increased their number of binge-drinking days. “Half measures availed us nothing” indeed.

Suffoletto sums up the study on a sobering note:

Illicit drugs and opiates grab all the headlines, but alcohol remains the fourth leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. If we can intervene in a meaningful way in the health and habits of people when they are young, we could make a real dent in that tragic statistic. Alcohol may bring them to the ER, but we can do our part to keep them from becoming repeat visitors.

Do you think this Text Message program should extend to all men and women, and not just students? Could you see it having an impact, in a day and age where we too often are (literally) “left to our own devices”?