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BMJ published an RCT in Switzerland of a smartphone app to reduce drinking among university students with unhealthy alcohol use. Quick take: High-quality RCT finds modest but meaningful 7% decrease in drinks/week at 1-year mark for a low-cost, scalable intervention.


  • The smartphone app gave personalized feedback on self-reported alcohol use, including comparison to average use by others of same sex & age; feedback on caloric content of user's alcohol consumption & health risks; self-monitoring & goal-setting tools; & other features.


Study Design:

  • The RCT sample comprised 1,770 university students with diverse backgrounds at 4 campuses, screened as having unhealthy alcohol use. Based on careful review, this was a well-conducted RCT (e.g., excellent baseline balance, negligible attrition, prespecified outcomes). The treatment group's app usage was high.



  • On the primary prespecified outcome: The study found a 7% reduction in self-reported number of standard drinks/week at both the 6- & 12-month follow-ups. (At 12 months, the control group averaged 7.59 drinks/week vs 7.04 for the treatment group, a statistically significant difference.)



  • This impact is modest but I think meaningful, as the app is very low cost & scalable to reach large student populations.

  • Replication RCTs in other countries (ideally with longer-term follow-up & biological samples to validate self-reported alcohol use) would be valuable to hopefully confirm the results & establish their generalizability.

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