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You probably have a general sense of how much you drink, if you drink – but we all know there can be a big difference between ballpark estimates and cold hard data. Do you think you’d change your drinking behaviour if you were receiving regular reminders about your alcohol consumption? That’s what researchers were aiming to test.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics 25.8% or 5 million people aged 18 years and over exceeded the Australian Alcohol Guidelines in 2020-21. One in seven (14.4%) people aged 18-24 years consumed more than 10 standard drinks in the week prior to interview.

The study included over 300 psychology students from the University of Melbourne with an average age of 21 years. The participants gave their demographic data and undertook surveys of their alcohol use, anxiety, depression and cognition. Some of them also downloaded a smartphone app on which they recorded their alcohol use over a two-week period in real time. Based on the survey responses, students were categorised as either hazardous or non-harmful drinkers (based on World Health Organisation criteria). Then students were randomised into three groups – a control group, a group that received feedback about their levels of alcohol consumption over time, and a group that received that same feedback plus information about their levels of impulsivity (based on the initial surveys) and how that might influence their alcohol use.

Researchers found that hazardous drinkers in both the group that received feedback about their drinking and the group that received feedback and insights about their impulsivity both reduced their drinking by a significant amount – a reduction of about a third over the study period (which was approximately four drinks a week). There was, as expected, no change in the control group over the course of the study. Interestingly, though the groups who received feedback reduced their alcohol intake, they didn’t change the frequency of their drinking (how many days they drank each week).

This study underscores the potential of technology-driven interventions for behaviour change among young adults. We have seen in other interventions that providing personalised feedback and tailored advice can be powerful ways of getting people to change behaviour and improve their health outcomes. It’s also interesting that some information is not useful. The researchers thought that people learning about impulsivity might influence their drinking, but it wasn’t the case in this study.


Further information

Impact of personalized alcohol intake and cognitive feedback on alcohol use behavior in hazardous drinkers: A quasi-randomized trial – Wiley Online Library

Alcohol: how much is too much? –

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