Personalized approach bias modification smartphone app (“SWIPE”) to reduce alcohol use among people drinking at hazardous or harmful levels: Protocol for an open-label feasibility study

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleOtherpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Alcohol accounts for 5.1% of the global burden of disease and injury, and approximately 1 in 10 people worldwide develop an alcohol use disorder. Approach bias modification (ABM) is a computerized cognitive training intervention in which patients are trained to “avoid” alcohol-related images and “approach” neutral or positive images. ABM has been shown to reduce alcohol relapse rates when delivered in residential settings (eg, withdrawal management or rehabilitation). However, many people who drink at hazardous or harmful levels do not require residential treatment or choose not to access it (eg, owing to its cost, duration, inconvenience, or concerns about privacy). Smartphone app–delivered ABM could offer a free, convenient intervention to reduce cravings and consumption that is accessible regardless of time and place, and during periods when support is most needed. Importantly, an ABM app could also easily be personalized (eg, allowing participants to select personally relevant images as training stimuli) and gamified (eg, by rewarding participants for the speed and accuracy of responses) to encourage engagement and training completion. Objective: We aim to test the feasibility and acceptability of “SWIPE,” a gamified, personalized alcohol ABM smartphone app, assess its preliminary effectiveness, and explore in which populations the app shows the strongest indicators of effectiveness. Methods: We aim to recruit 500 people who drink alcohol at hazardous or harmful levels (Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test score≥8) and who wish to reduce their drinking. Recruitment will be conducted through social media and websites. The participants’ intended alcohol use goal (reduction or abstinence), motivation to change their consumption, and confidence to change their consumption will be measured prior to training. Participants will be instructed to download the SWIPE app and complete at least 2 ABM sessions per week for 4 weeks. Recruitment and completion rates will be used to assess feasibility. Four weeks after downloading SWIPE, participants will be asked to rate SWIPE’s functionality, esthetics, and quality to assess acceptability. Alcohol consumption, craving, and dependence will be measured prior to commencing the first session of ABM and 4 weeks later to assess whether these variables change significantly over the course of ABM. Results: We expect to commence recruitment in August 2020 and complete data collection in March 2021. Conclusions: This will be the first study to test the feasibility, acceptability, and preliminary effectiveness of a personalized, gamified ABM intervention smartphone app for hazardous or harmful drinkers. Results will inform further improvements to the app, as well as the design of a statistically powered randomized controlled trial to test its efficacy relative to a control condition.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere21278
Number of pages11
JournalJMIR Research Protocols
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2020


  • Alcohol
  • Alcohol use disorder
  • Approach bias modification
  • Cognitive bias modification
  • Digital health
  • EHealth
  • Hazardous alcohol use
  • MHealth
  • Mobile phone app
  • Smartphone app

Cite this