April 18, 2019 | 60° F

Anonymous text message system helps student monitor their alcohol intake

Photo by Jeffrey Gomez |

More than 1,900 students are currently using KnightTRAK, an anonymous text system that encourages students to keep track of their alcohol consumption. Users set limits, and aim to follow them with the help of reminders and check ins.

KnightTRAK, an anonymous text-message system, aims to help students safely plan their drinking habits.

The system encourages students to monitor their alcohol consumption and to reduce high-risk consumption, said Tanisha Riley, a Rutgers health education specialist.

KnightTRAK is a 12-week program that works by sending students text messages on Thursdays asking if they intend to drink over the weekend, Riley said. If the answer is yes, respondents indicate what day they plan to drink and the number of drinks they plan to consume.

When asked about the system’s anonymity, she said the only information Rutgers receives about student use is the number of people enrolled and the number of users who have completed the 12-week program.

Riley said 19,000 students are currently using the system.

The texting system was developed during research on the binge-drinking habits of young adults by Professor Ben Suffoletto of the University of Pittsburgh and their Department of Emergency Medicine, she said.

Students engaged in high-risk drinking less often while using an interactive text-message system than participants who completed self-assessment surveys or participants that gave no special attention to their drinking habits, according to the research.

Of the three groups, participants enrolled in the interactive system spent fewer days binge drinking per month, drank fewer drinks per drinking occasion and experienced fewer alcohol-related injuries, according to the research.

In response to student input, the KnightTRAK system provides automated behavioral support and encourages safe drinking habits, Riley said. The responses range from an abstinence reply if users do not plan to drink or a low-risk reply if users plan to drink moderately, to a high-risk reply if users plan to drink to excess.

The system was originally released slightly over a year ago, she said. This year, the Department of Health and Education partnered with Residence Life to encourage incoming students to sign up for KnightTRAK.

While the main initiative is voluntary, students who are referred to an alcohol education workshop are required to sign up for KnightTRAK, Riley said.

The program works by teaching students to develop a plan and stay informed, she said.

Breanna Brock, a peer educator and School of Arts and Sciences senior, has experience using KnightTRAK and said the system would follow up with her during a night out.

Around 11 p.m. it asked her how many drinks she had consumed and if she planned to drink further, she said. The system was determining safe consumption levels based on her gender and weight.

KnightTRAK does not tell users not to drink, Brock said. The system provided positive feedback when she drank moderately and stuck to her plan.

The frequency of messages never felt like spam, she said.

“It’s a convenient way to keep track of how much you’re drinking,” Brock said.

Ken Kurtulik is a School of Arts and Sciences junior. He is a contributing writer for The Daily Targum.

Ken Kurtulik

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