Nicholas Jones

Nicholas Jones is the New Zealand Herald’s education reporter.

Sobering reminders for drinkers

Karen Renner says the text-message service is not anti-alcohol but is more about reducing harm.  Photo / Dean Purcell
Karen Renner says the text-message service is not anti-alcohol but is more about reducing harm. Photo / Dean Purcell

Binge drinkers are being offered the chance to send sobering text messages to their inebriated selves reminding them to keep safe while out imbibing.

The self-service text message campaign is the first of its kind and aims to reduce the harm from drinking.

Karen Renner, 56, helped to develop the programme and is using it as part of her PhD research at Auckland University Medical School.

Alcohol abuse has received increased attention in the city, with police and the Auckland Council teaming up to create a local alcohol policy to be introduced this year.

Ms Renner is calling for people aged over 18 who have experienced the negative effects of alcohol to sign up to the SPILL IT service.

She has also attended Auckland City Hospital's Emergency Department on weekend nights and invited patients affected by alcohol to sign up.

Participants can log in to a website, compose text messages and arrange for them to be sent to their phones at a time when they are likely to be drinking.

An application for iPhone and Windows Phone allows drinkers to add or change the text and schedule from their phone as their plans change.

"The approach we are taking is not an anti-alcohol approach. It's more tackling harm," Ms Renner said. "We all like having a drink or two or three. And that's not going to change any time soon."

The project is ready to enter the second phase of its feasibility study, with early participants choosing a wide array of messages.

"'Go easy' is common ... some are quite specific, along the lines of 'exam time, don't even think about it'. Some are along the lines of 'don't drink too much, you're a bitch when you're drunk'. The whole gamut of aggressiveness."

Previous studies have shown that people reduced drinking after researchers wrote and sent them text messages during drinking sessions.

However, Ms Renner's programme is the first where participants compose the messages themselves - something she feels is important.

"My approach or philosophy is that the person who understands you best is you yourself."

Ms Renner said initial users of the service had used it to target drinking generally and not warned themselves away from specific situations.

She hopes to sign up about 200 participants and depending on the success of the feasibility study, the next stage will be a full trial of the service and its effect on participants.

People can sign up on www.spillitnz.co.nz or text 022 019 9731 for more information.

THE SERVICE

* Drinkers sign up and are sent text messages.
* Use website to write texts themselves, and choose send time.
* Self-service campaign aims to reduce harm from drinking.

- NZ Herald

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