Can smartphones help keep track of alcohol consumption?

Academics at Edge Hill University have used smartphones to find the reasons why alcohol consumption is under reported

In the newly published paper for Alcohol Research UK, it has been suggested that asking people to recall how much alcohol they have consumed in the previous day or week leads to reporting inaccuracies.

These underestimations may not just be a result of failing to include alcohol consumed during holidays and special events, but might actually be attributed to the setting and type of drinks consumed.

The research in online journal PLOS One suggests that people tend to have more difficulty recalling how much alcohol they consumed in pubs and bars, compared with drinking at home. Younger people also seem to have particular difficulty in remembering their consumption of beer and cider accurately, compared to other alcoholic drinks like wine and spirits.

Participants used a smartphone app to record their alcohol consumption in real time. They were later asked to recall how much they thought they drunk during the preceding day or week.  The real-time results were consistently higher than the amount participants reported drinking when they were asked at a later time.

Commenting on the study, Dr Rebecca Monk from Edge Hill University said: “Previous research suggests that self-reported alcohol consumption is up to 40% lower than the amount of alcohol actually sold.

“Using Smartphone technology to record drinking in real-time we found that people appear to have great difficulty in accurately recalling what they consumed after the event.

“Overall, our findings suggest that underreporting is not solely a consequence of memory impairments associated with alcohol consumption.”

Dr James Nicholls of Alcohol Research UK added: “Recollecting levels of alcohol consumption after the event is never straightforward.

“This research suggests we need to develop more sophisticated ways of measuring alcohol consumption than are currently used. 

“Mobile technologies are not perfect, but they can help us develop a more accurate picture of how people drink on different occasions.  Such information would make a significant contribution to our understanding of drinking patterns across society.”