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New app helping to reduce alcohol consumption

Harmful levels of alcohol consumption is a major health concern that is linked with chronic disease, injury, and mortality, however, a recent trial involving the SWiPE app provided participants with a reduction in their consumption, drinking days, and cravings.

Developed by addiction specialists at Turning Point and Monash University, the app is based on a new form of neurocognitive training to help reduce people’s drinking with the study finding weekly consumption was reduced by an average of 8.4 standard drinks, a significant reduction in the number of drinking days and alcohol dependence severity score was also found. Participants also reported significant reductions in craving immediately after each training session, as well as over the course of the four-week training.

The findings are now published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

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Called SWiPE, the gamified app uses a novel form of personalised ‘brain training’ known as approach bias modification (ApBM) to train the brain to disengage from alcohol-related cues that trigger the desire to drink. The app works by getting users to ‘push away’ (avoid) their favourite alcoholic drinks and ‘pull’ (approach) positive images that relate to their personal goals or values.

Associate Professor Victoria Manning who led the team that developed and trialled the app says SWiPE may be useful in helping more people reduce or cease drinking.

“Many people experiencing alcohol-related problems face barriers when it comes to accessing treatment, such as fear of stigma, lack of time, or geographical distance. Having access to a smartphone-delivered intervention such as SWiPE could help people manage cravings whenever they arise.”

“Our research looked at people aged 18-75 who wanted to reduce or cease their drinking and who met criteria for hazardous alcohol use,” said Associate Professor Manning.

The study recruited 1309 participants across Australia who were asked to complete two ApBM sessions each week for four weeks to examine the feasibility, acceptability and preliminary effectiveness of SWiPE. Participants reported their frequency and quantity of alcohol consumption and alcohol craving each week during training, and one-month post-training.

“We found that only nine per cent were actually seeking treatment despite 60 per cent meeting criteria for alcohol dependence. One-third of participants also lived in regional, remote or very remote areas where treatment services are typically more difficult to access and geographic disadvantage is more common.”

“The results from the trial are very promising,” Associate Professor Manning said.

“Establishing the efficacy of SWiPE is a critical next step. Given it is low-cost, easy to implement, highly accessible and scalable, the app could address a significant gap between the demand for treatment and the availability of addiction treatment services.”

Alcohol is the most widely used drug globally and with almost 90 per cent of Australians now owning a smartphone, app-based interventions like SWiPE could play a key role in reducing alcohol-related harm.

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