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Do apps help reduce harmful alcohol consumption?

18 Abril 2023

Research seeks to understand whether it is possible to use cell phone applications to treat disorders related to alcohol use.

 A 2022 study conducted a systematic review of mobile apps that focus on interventions to reduce alcohol consumption (1). More precisely, this analysis, led by a researcher from King's College London, sought to investigate the effects of cell phone notifications on the behavior of alcohol consumers. In all, 14 studies on apps and alcohol consumption were found, and the role of notifications in this context was inconclusive. One of them (7) pointed out that, of 19 applications created to reduce alcohol consumption, only eight were available to the public and, of these eight, only four had some evidence of helping to reduce consumption.

Review studies like this one point out that the use of mobile apps to promote healthy behaviors is promising, even more so without a strong evidence base. Fortunately, there are some ongoing studies seeking to endorse the intervention through apps, either as a form of post-hospitalization follow-up (2), as an intervention to reduce consumption in light and moderate drinkers (3) or to understand how apps can help reduce depressive symptoms and alcohol consumption among young people (4).

Of the studies that have already been completed, some bring up promising results, such as an European study (5) that carried out a 6-month follow-up of 111 patients who had undergone a 30-day rehabilitation program. Of these, half received only the regular treatment, given to all patients, and the other half received, in addition to the usual treatment, interventions with an application aimed at reducing abusive consumption (called “UcontrolDrink”, UCD). After 6 months of follow-up, the researchers observed that patients who received the app-based intervention had reduced days of harmful alcohol consumption. This reduction was greater than that seen in the group of people who only received regular follow-up.

There is still no consensus on how health applications aimed at promoting healthy behaviors should be validated (8–11), nor on how to insert them into clinical practice. What is most consolidated is that they will help with conventional, drug and psychotherapeutic treatments, helping to keep the person in treatment, to correctly take the drugs prescribed by the doctor,  and to apply strategies to reduce consumption articulated with the psychologist (10).


Additional Info

  • Referências:

    1- Williamson C, White K, Rona RJ, Simms A, Fear NT, Goodwin L, et al. Smartphone-based alcohol interventions: A systematic review on the role of notifications in changing behaviors toward alcohol. Subst Abus [Internet]. 2022 [cited 2023 Jan 16];43(1):1231–44. Available from:
    2- Saur S, Weisel KK, Lang C, Fuhrmann LM, Steins-Loeber S, Enewoldsen N, et al. App-based maintenance treatment for alcohol use disorder after acute inpatient treatment: Study protocol for a multicentre randomized controlled trial. Internet Interv. 2022 Apr 1;28:100517.
    3- Park LS, Chih MY, Stephenson C, Schumacher N, Brown R, Gustafson D, et al. Testing an mHealth System for Individuals With Mild to Moderate Alcohol Use Disorders: Protocol for a Type 1 Hybrid Effectiveness-Implementation Trial. JMIR Res Protoc 2022;11(2):e31109 [Internet]. 2022 Feb 18 [cited 2023 Jan 30];11(2):e31109. Available from:
    4- Magwood O, Saad A, Ranger D, Volpini K, Rukikamirera F, Haridas R, et al. PROTOCOL: Mobile apps to reduce depressive symptoms and alcohol use in youth: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Campbell Systematic Reviews [Internet]. 2022 Mar 1 [cited 2023 Jan 30];18(1):e1222. Available from:
    5- Farren C, Farrell A, Hagerty A, McHugh C. A 6-Month Randomized Trial of a Smartphone Application, UControlDrink, in Aiding Recovery in Alcohol Use Disorder. Eur Addict Res [Internet]. 2022 Mar 1 [cited 2023 Jan 30];28(2):122–33. Available from:
    6- Bricker JB, Mull KE, Santiago-Torres M, Miao Z, Perski O, Di C. Smoking Cessation Smartphone App Use Over Time: Predicting 12-Month Cessation Outcomes in a 2-Arm Randomized Trial. J Med Internet Res. 2022 Aug 18;24(8):e39208. doi: 10.2196/39208. PMID: 35831180; PMCID: PMC9437788.

    7- Colbert S, Thornton L, Richmond R. Smartphone apps for managing alcohol consumption: A literature review. Addiction Science and Clinical Practice [Internet]. 2020 May 7 [cited 2023 Jan 16];15(1):1–16. Available from:

    8- Mathews SC, McShea MJ, Hanley CL, Ravitz A, Labrique AB, Cohen AB. Digital health: a path to validation. npj Digital Medicine 2019 2:1 [Internet]. 2019 May 13 [cited 2023 Jan 30];2(1):1–9. Available from:
    9- Sedhom R, McShea MJ, Cohen AB, Webster JA, Mathews SC. Mobile app validation: a digital health scorecard approach. npj Digital Medicine 2021 4:1 [Internet]. 2021 Jul 15 [cited 2023 Jan 30];4(1):1–8. Available from:
    10- Gordon WJ, Landman A, Zhang H, Bates DW. Beyond validation: getting health apps into clinical practice. npj Digital Medicine 2020 3:1 [Internet]. 2020 Feb 3 [cited 2023 Jan 30];3(1):1–6. Available from:
    11- Thornton L, Osman B, Champion K, Green O, Wescott AB, Gardner LA, et al. Measurement Properties of Smartphone Approaches to Assess Diet, Alcohol Use, and Tobacco Use: Systematic Review. JMIR Mhealth Uhealth 2022;10(2):e27337 [Internet]. 2022 Feb 17 [cited 2023 Jan 30];10(2):e27337. Available from:

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