People using a digital app to help cut their drinking reduced their alcohol consumption by around 25% more than those not using the app, a new study has found.

Researchers from Linköping University in Sweden developed an app to support people keen to curb how much they drink, and have described it as a “very good tool” for those who want to make a change in their lives.

The team, which says there is a stigma around seeking help for drinking, believes the app’s success could lie in the fact that no-one knows you are using it.

Those who signed up to use the app received messages encouraging them to look at how much they had drank the previous week. They were then sent feedback, access to resources and tools, and were prompted to set goals. They were also given the option to write motivational messages to themselves and could choose when to receive them.

Associate Professor Marcus Bendtsen, who led the study, said that traditional warning messages about the risks of drinking don’t go far enough.

He said: “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.”

The study saw participants split into two groups – one had instant access to the app while the other participants given existing resources and had to motivate themselves to reduce their drinking.

At the end of the study, the impact of using the app was slightly better than face-to-face support.

Associate Professor Bendtsen said: “Those who had access to the digital tool had roughly 25 percent lower alcohol consumption than the group which didn’t, which is a slightly larger effect than we expected. This kind of tool won’t change the overall societal situation when it comes to alcohol consumption, but it is a very good tool for individuals who want to change their own lives.”

He went on to say: “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.”

Now the researchers are looking at how to adapt the app to individual needs, as the reasons for drinking differ between different age ranges.

Read the full study in BMC Medicine.

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