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expert reaction to study looking at access to a smartphone alcohol intervention app and alcohol consumption in university students

A study published in the BMJ looks at the effect of smartphone intervention for university students with unhealthy alcohol use.


Dr Sadie Boniface, Head of Research, Institute of Alcohol Studies; and Visiting Researcher, King’s College London, said:

“This trial among students in Switzerland is high quality and had promising results.  But it is not the first study to examine apps or digital interventions to reduce alcohol use.  It adds to a growing evidence base suggesting apps can have a small but meaningful effect.  Other apps already exist (example), and the current advice from NICE is that digital interventions can be used as an add-on to existing services, but not as a replacement.

“Apps are not currently that widely used for alcohol.  But if sometime in the future the evidence and clinical practice changes, then equity will need to be addressed.  For example, older people and people with lower health literacy should not be left behind if these interventions become mainstream.  Apps are also only really suitable for people drinking at increasing or higher risk levels, but not with severe alcohol use disorder or dependence on alcohol, who require much more intensive support.”


Prof Martin McKee, Professor of European Public Health, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said:

“This is a well-designed study, albeit with some limitations that the authors acknowledge.  However, we need to remember that this is a highly educated and relatively privileged group of people and we cannot assume the results apply more generally, not least given how many of the most disadvantaged still lack digital access.  Individual measures such as these cannot be a substitute for the measures we know work, addressing price, availability, and marketing, while countering the ever more ingenuous efforts by the alcohol industry to increase their sales.”



‘Effect of a smartphone intervention as a secondary prevention for university students with unhealthy alcohol use: randomised controlled trial’ by Nicolas Bertholet et al. was published in the BMJ at 23:30 UK time on Wednesday 16 August 2023.

DOI: 10.1136/bmj-2022-073713



Declared interests

Dr Sadie Boniface: “I work at the Institute of Alcohol Studies which is funded by the Alliance House Foundation. I co-authored the linked editorial in the BMJ.”

Prof Martin McKee: “I’m a member (unpaid) of the Commission on Alcohol Harm.”

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