Heavy drinking (HD) is far more common among smokers compared with nonsmokers and interferes with successful smoking cessation. Alcohol-focused smoking cessation interventions delivered by counselors have shown promise, but digital versions of these interventions—which could have far greater population reach—have not yet been tested.
This pilot randomized controlled trial aimed to examine the feasibility, acceptability, and effect sizes of an automated digital smoking cessation program that specifically addresses HD using an interactive web-based intervention with an optional text messaging component.
Participants (83/119, 69.7% female; 98/119, 82.4% white; mean age 38.0 years) were daily smokers recruited on the web from a free automated digital smoking cessation program (BecomeAnEX.org, EX) who met the criteria for HD: women drinking 8+ drinks/week or 4+ drinks on any day and men drinking 15+ drinks/week or 5+ drinks on any day. Participants were randomized to receive EX with standard content (EX-S) or an EX with additional content specific to HD (EX-HD). Outcomes were assessed by web-based surveys at 1 and 6 months.
Participants reported high satisfaction with the website and the optional text messaging component. Total engagement with both EX-S and EX-HD was modest, with participants visiting the website a median of 2 times, and 52.9% of the participants enrolled to receive text messages. Participants in both the conditions showed substantial, significant reductions in drinking across 6 months of follow-up, with no condition effects observed. Although smoking outcomes tended to favor EX-HD, the condition effects were small and nonsignificant. A significantly smaller proportion of participants in EX-HD reported having a lapse back to smoking when drinking alcohol (7/58, 16%) compared with those in EX-S (18/61, 41%; χ21=6.2; P=.01).
This is the first trial to examine a digital smoking cessation program tailored to HD smokers. The results provide some initial evidence that delivering such a program is feasible and may reduce the risk of alcohol-involved smoking lapses. However, increasing engagement in this and other web-based interventions is a crucial challenge to address in future work.