Purpose Problematic alcohol use is an important risk factor for injury. Smartphones introduce new possibilities for increasing or decreasing that risk. Many alcohol-related smartphone apps exist. This study systematically reviewed alcohol-related apps available in the U.S. app market, described the purpose of these apps and assessed their potential to increase or decrease risks associated with alcohol use.
Methods The two largest app stores were searched using the keywords alcohol, drunk, drinking games, sober, blood alcohol, designated driver, and too drunk to drive. The top 100 apps resulting from each term were screened for inclusion. Using a structured codebook, information on the app purpose, features, and developer was abstracted from the text and screen shots for each app’s listing. Apps were also coded for the extent to which they were likely to promote or prevent problematic alcohol use using the Precede-Proceed Model concepts of predisposing, enabling, or reinforcing a behaviour.
Results A total of 764 alcohol-related apps were included in the analysis. The most common app purpose was drinking game (36.1%), followed by BAC calculator/intoxication test (24.1%), addiction recovery support (13.1%), and designated driver/safe ride finder (10.9%). More apps were classified as risk promoting (40.7%) than preventive (36.6%). Most apps classified as risk-preventing were enabling (79.6%), whereas risk-promoting apps were most commonly reinforcing (44.9%).
Conclusions Behaviour change models are useful for assessing the potential impact of alcohol-related apps. Risk-reducing apps have potential to prevent injury, but the large number of risk-promoting apps is cause for concern.
Significance and Contributions to Science This study describes the nature of easily available apps related to alcohol use and sets the stage for research to determine how these apps are actually used by consumers. This study also contributes a framework for characterising apps that could be expanded to other substance use and injury risks.