New app a 'game changer' to gauge realistic drinking habits
Posted July 19, 2019 06:57:50
Researchers say a new app has the potential to more accurately reflect the nation’s drinking habits.
- App developers say it will get a more accurate drinking history than a face-to-face interview with a trained health professional
- The Aboriginal Drug and Alcohol Council says the app could replace the National Drug Strategy Household Survey
- Researchers say alcohol consumption among Aboriginal women is under-represented by up to 700 per cent in national surveys
The Grog App was designed for use by Indigenous Australians but could be used by anyone.
Dr Kylie Lee, a senior research fellow at the Centre of Research Excellence in Indigenous Health and Alcohol who was also involved in the app’s development, said the new technology would create a more accurate database.
“Aboriginal women, their drinking is under-represented in the national surveys by up to 700 per cent and 200 per cent in men.
“Undeniably we need to do better … this app offers a great opportunity to do that.”
Researchers believe the app would elicit greater detail than the National Drug Strategy Household Survey which has been used for more than 30 years.
Dr Lee said the prospect of collating improved data collection on the difficult topic of drug and alcohol consumption was “exciting”.
“I think it really could be a game changer because it’s giving an opportunity for a safe place where they can just tell their story in terms of what they use or what they drink,” she said.
How it works
- Photo: An addiction specialist says the Grog App could make the national drug and alcohol database much more accurate. (Supplied: ADAC)
- Photo: The app uses a “soft approach” to ask questions, making participants more comfortable to answer honestly. (Supplied: ADAC)
- Photo: The app has people recall two specific instances of drinking. (Supplied: ADAC)
- Photo: “We actually found a range of containers that people told us they were drinking out of and the app can work out how many standard drinks are in that container,” Mr Wilson says. (Supplied: ADAC)
- Photo: One of the key design elements of the app is that it doesn’t ask about standard drinks. (Supplied: ADAC)
- Photo: Mr Wilson says the pattern of drinking is reflective of issues in Indigenous communities such as unemployment. (Supplied: ADAC)
- Photo: Researchers also wanted to determine the main reasons people chose not to drink. (Supplied: ADAC)
- Photo: The app is available in four audio tracks of male and female English and male and female Pitjantjatjara voices. (Supplied: ADAC)
- Photo: Researchers found that people in Indigenous communities consumed alcohol less frequently, but when they did they were more likely to partake in “risky” drinking. (Supplied: ADAC)
- Photo: Researchers behind the app say it’s important to take any opportunity to give potentially risky drinkers feedback and help. (Supplied: ADAC)
- Photo: Participants answer a wide range of questions to determine where they sit on a scale from “non-drinker” to “high risk”. (Supplied: ADAC)
- Photo: The app is designed to be colloquial and visually appealing to make it easy and engaging to use. (Supplied: ADAC)
Participants answer a range of broad and specific questions on the app about alcohol and based on that information, they are allocated into a category on a sliding scale from ‘non-drinker’ to ‘high risk’.
Dr Lee said immediate feedback was very helpful.
She said the app could alleviate issues in the way alcohol data was typically collected, for example participants were more likely to be asked about standard drinks but not non-standard containers.
“Like a soft drink bottle, a juice bottle, a sports bottle et cetera so the app has facilities to show how much you put in the bottle,” Dr Lee said.
“It’s very exciting the level of detail you’re going to get.”
Professor Kate Conigrave, the app’s chief investigator and an addiction specialist at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, agreed the new technology could provide greater clarity.
“I’m aware of the traps,” she said.
“One patient I saw had been recorded by a doctor as drinking three standard drinks a day but when I took a drinking history I said, ‘what do you drink them out of?’, and he showed me a sports bottle,” Professor Conigrave said.
“He was drinking three full sports bottles of wine a day, so that’s about 30 standard drinks a day.”
Professor Conigrave said the national health survey often contained “tiny” numbers from Indigenous communities.
“The sample sizes are so small, it’s hard to get a meaningful picture,” she said.
She said the app would provide a level of comfortability and anonymity which may lead to more accurate data, than an interview with a trained health professional.
“People can be a bit embarrassed about what they’re drinking and it can be a bit hard to admit to someone you know, ‘when I drink I have 12 cans of beer,'” she said.
Taking it to the communities
The app is in its second phase of testing.
In the first phase, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in remote, regional and urban parts of South Australia and Queensland were asked to describe their drinking habits.
Jimmy Perry, a Ngarrindjerri/Arrernte man and an Aboriginal health worker involved in the project, said communities had a positive response.
“Obviously there’s people who want the research done to help their community,” Mr Perry said.
“Once we get this app going, it’ll become very clear very quickly where the money should be spent.
“That doesn’t mean you’ve just got to chuck money at them, but having Aboriginal-controlled issues and understanding which way they want to go.”
Research on the app has now progressed to the second round, during which the focus was on the technology’s validity as an on-the-ground survey tool.
Scott Wilson, who was leading the development of the app at the Aboriginal Drug and Alcohol Council (ADAC), said the second phase was a “major prevalence study” which would include participants from the local hospital and prison.
The location for the trial has not been made public.
“In the big major surveys people in those areas are always excluded,” Mr Wilson said.
“When you consider that I might be in hospital for an alcohol-related illness or I might be in jail because of an alcohol or drug-related crime, my voice or results are never included.”
The ADAC and app researchers hoped the app would be available to download by the end of the year.
In the meantime, they planned to have discussions with the government over the future use of the app and pursue grant opportunities.
Dr Lee said she was excited for the potential of the new technology.
“Eventually I think it would be a great tool to roll out nationally … using it in the same way as the National Drug Strategy Household Survey,” she said.