A text message intervention to reduce first year university students' alcohol use: A pilot experimental study

Digit Health. 2017 Apr 26:3:2055207617707627. doi: 10.1177/2055207617707627. eCollection 2017 Jan-Dec.


Objective: The aim of Orientation Week is to help new students acclimatize to university life. However, Orientation Week is characterized by heavy alcohol use and during this time students may develop drinking patterns that persist into the academic year. The aim of the current study was to refine a brief Ecological Momentary Intervention (EMI) and test its effectiveness in reducing students' alcohol use during both Orientation Week and throughout the academic year.

Method: We conducted two focus groups with students who had received a pilot intervention. We then updated and trialled the intervention with students from two residential colleges (College 1 n = 117 and College 2 n = 269) who were assigned to either an Ecological Momentary Assessment (EMA) condition or an EMA-EMI condition. Students in both conditions reported their pre-university drinking and their drinking during Orientation Week and the academic year via text message. In addition to the EMA messages, during Orientation Week, participants in the EMA-EMI condition received messages highlighting the potential social consequences of heavy alcohol use.

Results: In College 1 those in the EMA-EMI condition consumed fewer drinks, relative to those in the EMA condition, across both Orientation Week (9.7 vs. 15.5; t(98) = 2.138, p = .018) and the academic year. (4.3 vs. 6.8; t(98) = 1.788, p = .039). There were, however, no significant differences between conditions in College 2.

Conclusion: The current findings suggest that EMIs may be successful under certain circumstances and may provide a simple, cost-effective means of intervening.

Keywords: Ecological Momentary Intervention; Orientation Week; alcohol intervention; student drinking; text message intervention.