Background: Unhealthy alcohol use (UAU) is one of the major causes of preventable morbidity, mortality, and associated behavioral risks worldwide. Although mobile health (mHealth) interventions can provide consumers with an effective means for self-control of UAU in a timely, ubiquitous, and cost-effective manner, to date, there is a lack of understanding about different health outcomes brought by such interventions. The core components of these interventions are also unclear.
Objective: This study aimed to systematically review and synthesize the research evidence about the efficacy of mHealth interventions on various health outcomes for consumer self-control of UAU and to identify the core components to achieve these outcomes.
Methods: We systematically searched 7 electronic interdisciplinary databases: Scopus, PubMed, PubMed Central, CINAHL Plus with full text, MEDLINE with full text, PsycINFO, and PsycARTICLES. Search terms and Medical Subject Headings “mHealth,” “text message,” “SMS,” “App,” “IVR,” “self-control,” “self-regulation,” “alcohol*,” and “intervention” were used individually or in combination to identify peer-reviewed publications in English from 2008 to 2017. We screened titles and abstracts and assessed full-text papers as per inclusion and exclusion criteria. Data were extracted from the included papers according to the Consolidated Standards of Reporting Trials-EHEALTH checklist (V 1.6.1) by 2 authors independently. Data quality was assessed by the Mixed Methods Appraisal Tool. Data synthesis and analyses were conducted following the procedures for qualitative content analysis. Statistical testing was also conducted to test differences among groups of studies.
Results: In total, 19 studies were included in the review. Of these 19 studies, 12 (63%) mHealth interventions brought significant positive outcomes in improving participants’ health as measured by behavioral (n=11), physiological (n=1), and cognitive indicators (n=1). No significant health outcome was reported in 6 studies (6/19, 32%). Surprisingly, a significant negative outcome was reported for the male participants in the intervention arm in 1 study (1/19, 5%), but no change was found for the female participants. In total, 5 core components reported in the mHealth interventions for consumer self-control of UAU were context, theoretical base, delivery mode, content, and implementation procedure. However, sound evidence is yet to be generated about the role of each component for mHealth success. The health outcomes were similar regardless of types of UAU, deployment setting, with or without nonmobile cointervention, and with or without theory.
Conclusions: Most studies reported mHealth interventions for self-control of UAU appeared to be improving behavior, especially the ones delivered by short message service and interactive voice response systems. Further studies are needed to gather sound evidence about the effects of mHealth interventions on improving physiological and cognitive outcomes as well as the optimal design of these interventions, their implementation, and effects in supporting self-control of UAU.