Developing an Adaptive Mobile Intervention to Address Risky Substance Use Among Adolescents and Emerging Adults: Usability Study

JMIR Mhealth Uhealth. 2021 Jan 15;9(1):e24424. doi: 10.2196/24424.


Background: Substance use among adolescents and emerging adults continues to be an important public health problem associated with morbidity and mortality. Mobile health (mHealth) provides a promising approach to deliver just-in-time adaptive interventions (JITAIs) to prevent escalation of use and substance use-related consequences.

Objective: This pilot study aims to describe the iterative development and initial feasibility and acceptability testing of an mHealth smartphone app, called MiSARA, designed to reduce escalation in substance use.

Methods: We used social media advertisements to recruit youth (n=39; aged 16-24 years, who screened positive for past-month binge drinking or recreational cannabis use) with a waiver of parental consent. Participants used the MiSARA app for 30 days, with feasibility and acceptability data reported at a 1-month follow-up. We present descriptive data regarding behavior changes over time.

Results: The results show that most participants (31/39, 79%) somewhat liked the app at least, with most (29/39, 74%) rating MiSARA as 3 or more stars (out of 5). Almost all participants were comfortable with self-reporting sensitive information within the app (36/39, 92%); however, most participants also desired more interactivity (27/39, 69%). In addition, participants' substance use declined over time, and those reporting using the app more often reported less substance use at the 1-month follow-up than those who reported using the app less often.

Conclusions: The findings suggest that the MiSARA app is a promising platform for JITAI delivery, with future trials needed to optimize the timing and dose of messages and determine efficacy.

Keywords: adolescents; alcohol misuse; cannabis; just-in-time adaptive intervention; mHealth; mobile phone; young adults.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mobile Applications*
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care
  • Pilot Projects
  • Risk-Taking
  • Substance-Related Disorders / prevention & control*
  • Telemedicine*
  • Young Adult