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A feasibility study of short message service text messaging as a surveillance tool for alcohol consumption and vehicle for interventions in university students

Simon C Moore1*, Katherine Crompton2, Stephanie van Goozen3, Marianne van den Bree4, Julia Bunney5 and Emma Lydall1

Author Affiliations

1 Violence & Society Research Group, School of Dentistry, Cardiff University, CF14 4XY Cardiff, Wales

2 Department of Applied Psychology, Cardiff Metropolitan University, Llandaff Campus, Western Avenue, CF5 2YB Cardiff, Wales

3 School of Psychology, Cardiff University, 70 Park Place, CF10 3AT Cardiff, Wales

4 MRC Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics & Genomics, Cardiff University School of Medicine, Neuadd Meirionnydd, Heath Park, CF14 4YS Cardiff, Wales

5 Cardiff University School of Medicine, Heath Park, CF14 4YU Cardiff, Wales

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BMC Public Health 2013, 13:1011  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-1011

Published: 25 October 2013



Practitioners who come into contact with the intoxicated, such as those in unscheduled care, often have limited resources to provide structured interventions. There is therefore a need for cost-effective alcohol interventions requiring minimal input. This study assesses the barriers, acceptability and validity of text messaging to collect daily alcohol consumption data and explores the feasibility of a text-delivered intervention in an exploratory randomised controlled trial.


Study I. Participants (n = 82) completed the initial online screening survey and those eligible were asked each day, for 157 days via text message, to reply with the number of alcohol units consumed the previous day. Analyses compared standard measures of hazardous consumption with self-report alcohol use. Attrition and sampling biases were examined. Study I included secondary exploratory analyses using data from 70 participants to determine associations between events (including Christmas and other celebratory occasions) and consumption. Study I further included the thematic analysis of semi-structured interview data and assessed the feasibility of and barriers to surveillance and interventions delivered through text messaging. Developing findings from Study I, Study II developed an exploratory randomised control trial that delivered a single message on monthly alcohol expenditure in order to assess effect size and test generalisability.


Self-report alcohol consumption data was significantly associated with FAST and AUDIT scores. Attrition from the study was not associated with greater alcohol use. Greater alcohol use was observed on Fridays, Saturdays and Wednesdays as were notable celebratory events. Interview data indicated that text messaging was acceptable to participants and preferred over email and web-based methods. The exploratory randomised controlled trial suggested that a simple text delivered intervention might be effective in eliciting a reduction in alcohol consumption in a future trial.


The ubiquity of mobile telephones and the acceptability of text messaging suggests that this approach can be developed as a surveillance tool to collect high frequency consumption data to identify periods of vulnerability and that it can offer a platform through which targeted interventions can be delivered.

Short message service (SMS); Alcohol; Students; University; Intervention