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Dealing with alcoholism and depression with a text message

The last thing an alcoholic wants, besides a hangover, is to be reminded that she has a “drinking problem.”

I know. Back in my drinking days I would avoid conversations about last night’s festivities – especially if I had been in a blackout most of the night. Which is why I think this will work: Txt message from the ER cuts binge drinking.

shutterstock_100665064Young adults who screened positive for a history of hazardous or binge drinking reduced their binge drinking by more than 50 percent after receiving mobile phone text messages following a visit to the emergency department, according to a study published online in Annals of Emergency Medicine.

Researchers enrolled 765 young adult emergency patients with a history of hazardous drinking in the study. Hazardous drinking is defined as five or more drinks per day for men and four or more drinks per day for women.

For 12 weeks, one-third received text messages prompting them to respond to drinking-related queries and received text messages in return offering feedback on their answers. The feedback was tailored to strengthen their low-risk drinking plan or goal or to promote reflection on either their drinking plan or their decision not to set a low-risk goal.

One-third received only text message queries about their drinking and one-third received no text messages.

The group receiving both text message queries and feedback decreased their self-reported binge drinking days by 51 percent and decreased the number of self-reported drinks per day by 31 percent. The groups that received only text messages or no text messages increased the number of binge drinking days.

I’m thinking of taking this to the next level for addicts and alcoholics who never end up in an ER. What about a text message from a friend? Or stranger who witnessed your binge? I’m thinking out loud here because this is a tactic that could quickly backfire.

For example, you definitely should NOT text an alcoholic about her drinking while she is drunk. That’s a sure way to start a fight and lose a BFF. Parents should probably not send a random text to their kids asking how much they drank last night either.

shutterstock_175386485Hit her with a text message the next afternoon when the hangover is in full throttle. Don’t hit her hard, just enough to get her attention. Don’t say you want to talk about her drinking. Don’t judge. Don’t use phrases such as “You need to…” or “You should.” Nobody wants to be “should” on, especially with a hangover.

Just let her know that you’re aware of how much she is drinking. We alcoholics like to think no one notices how much we’re drinking or that everyone else is drinking as much as we are. Don’t use the “A” word – alcoholic. Don’t suggest they cut back or quit.

“You were seriously hammered last night. You OK?”

“You’re drinking a lot lately. You OK?”

“You’re really hitting the bottle hard. You OK?”

Text messages and cell phones weren’t around when I was drinking. But if I had gotten a txt while nursing a hangover that said: “Wanna know what you did last night?’ I would have totally freaked out. I probably would not have returned your text or called you. May have even cut you out of ┬ámy life altogether. But it definitely would have made me think about my drinking.

The weird think about alcoholism is that it is self-diagnosed. You need a doctor to tell you if you have high blood pressure or cancer, only you can diagnose your alcoholism.

For me – a dual-diagnosed alcoholic – it wasn’t until I self-diagnosed my alcoholism that I could deal with my depression. Alcohol is a depressant. So, trying to deal with your depression while you continue to drink is defeating the purpose.

Until you can admit you are powerless over alcohol and your life is unmanageable, you won’t quit and you likely won’t crawl out of your black hole. For me, getting sober was the key to getting happy. l

So, that little cyber tap on the shoulder might do more than help an alcoholic get sober. It might change her life. Forever.

Woman reading a text message available from Shutterstock.
Smartphone text message screen available from Shutterstock.












Dealing with alcoholism and depression with a text message

Christine Stapleton

Christine Stapleton has been a journalist for 35 years. She is now an investigative reporter for The Palm Beach Post. In 2006, began writing a blog for PsychCentral called Depression on My Mind. Her latest blog, Addiction Matters, draws on her 19 years of sobriety and her coverage of the drug treatment industry in South Florida.

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APA Reference
Stapleton, C. (2014). Dealing with alcoholism and depression with a text message. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 30, 2020, from


Last updated: 22 Jul 2014
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