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Drink Less app

App can help people reduce their alcohol intake

Published on: 2 April 2024

A free smartphone app, Drink Less, can help people who would benefit most from reducing their alcohol consumption to do so successfully, new research has revealed.

The study, published in eClinicalMedicinepart of The Lancet and funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR), found that people randomly recommended to use the Drink Less app reduced their consumption by 39 units a week at six months – two more units a week on average than a control group who were referred to standard NHS advice.

The 5,602 participants of the study were all increasing or higher risk drinkers interested in reducing their alcohol consumption and were randomly assigned to either be sent a link to an NHS alcohol advice webpage or a link to download the Drink Less app.

Reducing alcohol-attributed health burden

Eileen Kaner, Professor of Public Health and Primary Care Research at Newcastle University said: “The North East suffers disproportionately from alcohol harm with the highest rates of alcohol-related hospital admissions and alcohol specific deaths in England.

“We know that alcohol use is a leading risk factor for ill-health and premature death, with a continuum of risk that increases with each drink.

“If we can support people to reduce their alcohol consumption by any level, we can reduce the alcohol-attributable health burden.”

In a further analysis, the team estimated that if the Drink Less app was rolled out widely it would save the NHS hundreds of millions of pounds over 20 years.

The app allows people to set goals, record how much they drink and log their mood and sleep quality after drinking. It shows progress towards goals and can offer feedback and support with action plans for situations where users would usually drink.

Another feature is that the app shows where in the UK population users are in terms of how much they drink each week – for example, what percentage of the population drink more or less than they do.

This can be a shock as most people underestimate how much they drink compared with the general population, the researchers said. Anyone can download the app from the UK Apple App Store and see how they compare.

Senior author and Chief Investigator Dr Claire Garnett, from UCL Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care and the University of Bristol, who led a team in developing the app while at UCL, said: “Many apps offer to support people to cut down their drinking, but this is the first randomised controlled trial of an alcohol reduction app for the general population in the UK. 

“If people are going to use an app, it would be better if they tried one that had good evidence behind it. An app that is not effective may make it less likely for that person to try to reduce their drinking in future.”

Participants were recruited via adverts on NHS webpages and on radio and social media, as well as via posters in GP surgeries. They were eligible if they were over 18, wanted to reduce their drinking, and categorised as an increasing or higher risk drinker based on a questionnaire assessing how much they drank.

Improving female health

The app was even more helpful for female participants, who reduced their drinking by an additional 2.5 units a week compared to women who were referred to the NHS advice webpage.

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, Chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance, said: “At a time when deaths from alcohol are at peak levels, measures, like the Drink Less app, that are proven to reduce alcohol intake are a welcome development.

“There are many tools out there that support people to reduce their alcohol consumption, but few have the evidence base to show that they really work. It is good to see that the app developed has the data behind it to back it up and could be used alongside, not in place of, population measures that address the price, availability, and marketing of alcohol to reduce the harm caused by alcohol.”

Professor Brian Ferguson, Director of the NIHR Public Health Research Programme, which funded the study, added: “These findings show that the Drink Less app has the potential to help people monitor and reduce the amount of alcohol they consume. In addition, it highlights the importance of harnessing technology to help improve public health, although the app will need to be adapted to extend its population coverage.”

The Drink Less app is currently available on the Apple App Store but not yet for Android devices.

Reference: Effectiveness of a smartphone app (Drink Less) versus usual digital care for reducing alcohol consumption among increasing-and-higher-risk adult drinkers in the UK: a two-arm, parrallel group, double-blind, randomised controlled trial. eClinicalMedicine. Melissa Oldham et al. DOI: 10.1016/j.eclinm.2024.102534


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