University of Dundee University of Dundee
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16 December 2013

Could text messaging be a tool to help tackle Scotland's binge drinking culture?

Researchers at the University of Dundee are set to carry out a major study with men across Scotland who will receive regular mobile phone text messages aimed at encouraging them to think about their level of drinking and the many benefits that could arise from changing their habits.

The project, funded by the National Institute for Health Research Public Health Research (NIHR PHR) Programme, follows a successful feasibility study carried out in Tayside.

In the full study, researchers hope to recruit around 700 men aged between 25 and 44 across the Tayside, Fife, Forth Valley and Greater Glasgow areas.

'We are hoping to work with men who have settled into a drinking pattern where they will have consumed more than eight units of alcohol on two occasions in the previous month. The standard definition of binge drinking is eight units in a session,' said Professor Iain Crombie, of the Centre for Biomedical Sciences and Public Health at the University of Dundee.

'The basic idea is not to preach to them or tell them what they do. Many alcohol interventions are very 'in your face' and we don't see that as the way to go.

'What the messaging in this study will do is encourage them to think about what they are drinking, why they do it, and about how it fits with the rest of their lives. Text messaging is an attractive medium to use to deliver those messages. There is evidence that it can be effective, and our study will robustly test that.

'We are also dealing with a group of men who generally do not attend GPs or other healthcare points particularly often, so being able to reach them in this way may be more appealing to them.'

Men who join the study would receive regular text messages for three months, following which there will be a phone interview to assess whether there has been any immediate change in behaviour. They will be asked again after a further nine months whether there has been any longer-term change in behaviour.

Letters of invitation to join the study will be sent out from GP practices while the study team will also be going out into the community to recruit volunteers.

Professor Crombie said new ways of approaching Scotland's well documented alcohol problems were needed.

'There have been many initiatives over decades aimed at changing our drinking culture but it still persists to a large degree. As new technology becomes widely adopted we must see if we can use it to come up with better ways of working with people,' said Professor Crombie.


  1. The National Institute for Health Research Public Health Research (NIHR PHR) Programme was launched in autumn 2008. It commissions research to evaluate public health interventions, providing new knowledge on the benefits, costs, acceptability and wider effect of non-NHS interventions intended to improve the health of the public and reduce inequalities in health. The scope of the programme is multi-disciplinary and broad covering a range of public health interventions. The PHR Programme is funded by the NIHR, with contributions from the CSO in Scotland, NISCHR in Wales and the HSC R&D Division, Public Health Agency in Northern Ireland.
  2. The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is funded by the Department of Health to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research. Since its establishment in April 2006, the NIHR has transformed research in the NHS. It has increased the volume of applied health research for the benefit of patients and the public, driven faster translation of basic science discoveries into tangible benefits for patients and the economy, and developed and supported the people who conduct and contribute to applied health research. The NIHR plays a key role in the Government's strategy for economic growth, attracting investment by the life-sciences industries through its world-class infrastructure for health research. Together, the NIHR people, programmes, centres of excellence and systems represent the most integrated health research system in the world. For further information, visit the NIHR website (

This article presents independent research funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR or the Department of Health.

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