A new smartphone app alerts drinkers when they exceed recommended maximum daily or weekly units of alcohol.
The Alcohol Tracker also includes links to alcohol helplines, has built-in psychological therapies, such as a behavioral goals aid, and integrates the validated Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test questionnaire, which users can complete to find out whether their drinking puts them at risk for problems.
The developers of the app, Melvyn W. Zhang, MBBS, MRCPsych, and Roger C. Ho, MBBS, MRCPsych, of the Department Psychological Medicine, National University Healthcare Systems (NUHS), in Singapore, describe the Alcohol Tracker in a commentary published online July 6 in BMJ Innovations.
Unique Feature: Evidence-Based App
They note that alcohol use disorder is a major global problem that results in millions of deaths each year. Most currently available alcohol apps are “largely for entertainment,” and some even appear to promote rather than curb drinking. Some applications estimate blood alcohol concentrations, but they have proven “highly unreliable.”
The Alcohol Tracker is different. “The unique feature of this app,” Dr Zhang told Medscape Medical News, “is that it is one of the applications that does not track alcohol intake by means of a blood alcohol concentration level. Most conventional apps do that.”
“Instead, we ask individuals to log the absolute number of drinks (1 glass of wine, 1 beer, etc), and we convert this into standard units. There will be a live notification alerting the individual if he or she has gone over the recommended limits,” he noted. The limits are based on the recommended safe amounts to drink for men and women, as stipulated by national guidance in the United Kingdom (the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) and Canada.
Dr Zhang said some of the conceptualization and initial ideas for the app came from Christopher Cheok, MBBS, senior consultant psychiatrist and medical board vice chairman for the National Addiction Management Service in Singapore.
“We have piloted the app and obtained user perspectives with…collaborators in Canada. The initial results showed that there seemed to be gender differences in what users perceive to be useful in the application. We understand that we need to further fine-tune the logging system, but we are expecting to do so in phase 2 of this project,” he told Medscape Medical News.
The current beta version of the Alcohol Tracker is available for download in the Android store.
“There will be further enhancements in the later part of the year, with the iPhone version hopefully launched together with the new version of the Android build,” Dr Zhang said.
A video on the Alcohol Tracker is available online.
Development of the app involved no commercial funding. The developers have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.
BMJ Innovations. Published online July 6, 2015. Full text