Aim: This research compared real-time measurements of alcohol consumption with retrospective accounts of alcohol consumption to examine possible discrepancies between, and contextual influences on, the different accounts.
Method: Building on previous investigations, a specifically designed Smartphone technology was utilized to measure alcohol consumption and contextual influences in de facto real-time. Real-time data (a total of 10,560 data points relating to type and number of drinks and current social / environmental context) were compared with daily and weekly retrospective accounts of alcohol consumption.
Results: Participants reported consuming more alcoholic drinks during real-time assessment than retrospectively. For daily accounts a higher number of drinks consumed in real-time was related to a higher discrepancy between real-time and retrospective accounts. This effect was found across all drink types but was not shaped by social and environmental contexts. Higher in-vivo alcohol consumption appeared to be related to a higher discrepancy in retrospectively reported weekly consumption for alcohol beverage types other than wine. When including contextual factors into the statistical models, being with two or more friends (as opposed to being alone) decreased the discrepancy between real-time and retrospective reports, whilst being in the pub (relative to being at home) was associated with greater discrepancies.
Conclusions: Overall, retrospective accounts may underestimate the amount of actual, real-time alcohol consumed. Increased consumption may also exacerbate differences between real-time and retrospective accounts. Nonetheless, this is not a global effect as environmental and social contexts interact with the type of alcohol consumed and the time frame given for reporting (weekly vs. daily retrospective). A degree of caution therefore appears warranted with regards to the use of retrospective self-report methods of recording alcohol consumption. Whilst real-time sampling is unlikely to be completely error free, it may be better able to account for social and environmental influences on self-reported consumption.