Trial of new smartphone app launched to help tackle alcohol problems in ex-Armed Forces personnel

The Forces in Mind Trust (FiMT) has awarded the trial of a new veteran-specific smartphone app, which aims to help ex-Service personnel to reduce their alcohol consumption, over £310,000.

The app was developed by researchers at King’s Centre for Military Health Research at King’s College London in collaboration with the University of Liverpool to enable self-monitoring and management of alcohol consumption in ex-Service personnel who drink at hazardous or harmful levels.

Distinguishing it from similar products, this app was co-designed with ex-Service personnel and uses military terminology, language and content. It also offers feedback and generates tailored text messaging. The app adapts to users’ needs with a novel personalisation framework which focuses on short-term consequences such as impact on fitness, mood, relationships and finances which helps motivate ex-Service personnel to reduce their alcohol consumption.

The trial will be the first time an app aimed at UK ex-Service personnel has been academically tested.

Improving understanding 

A focus group of 10 ex-Service personnel will be recruited to review and refine the app as part of a co-design process and 600 participants will take part in the trial. Using data from the app, the research team will assess the effectiveness of the app in reducing alcohol consumption in a real-world setting and the impact on participants’ quality of life. The research team will also conduct a literature review to evaluate the benefits of using digital technology in the management and treatment of alcohol misuse.

Dr Daniel Leightley, project lead, King’s Centre for Military Health Research, King’s College London, said: “We are delighted to be working with Forces in Mind Trust and Combat Stress to trial our app with ex-Service personnel. Our study not only aims to understand if our app is helpful in reducing the amount ex-Service personnel drink, but also aims to improve understanding on how digital technology can be used to support Service charities and the Armed Forces Community.”

Dr Laura Goodwin, project lead, Psychological Sciences, University of Liverpool, said: “We know that ex-Service personnel with mental health problems are more likely to require support for alcohol misuse, but this support is often difficult to obtain. We are pleased to be able to trial this mobile app with ex-Service personnel using Combat Stress to understand whether it can help them reduce their drinking”

Novel alternative to conventional help

Dr Dominic Murphy, project lead, Combat Stress, said: “This is an exciting project that aims to support ex-Service personnel with alcohol difficulties by testing the use of an app-based treatment package that will allow individuals to access support digitally 24 hours a day at a time and location that suits them.”

Ray Lock, Chief Executive, FiMT, said: “Previous research has shown that more than 50% of ex-Service personnel meet the criteria for hazardous alcohol use and, while there is a range of treatment pathways available for alcohol misuse, not all ex-Service personnel are able, or want, to access support services. Digital interventions such as this can provide a novel alternative to conventional help seeking and have been shown to be as effective as face-to-interventions at a lower cost to society. The app has the potential to catalyse real change and this RCT will help us to understand whether it can be used as an effective treatment tool in lowering harmful alcohol use in the Armed Forces Community.”