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Swiss Research Institute for Public Health and Addiction

SmartCoach: Promotion of life skills via mobile phone

Summary Effectiveness of a mobile phone-based program to prevent addiction among young people by promoting life skills
Project manager(s) Severin Haug
Duration 07.2018-12.2021
Client / Funding partner(s) Schweizerischer Nationalfonds (SNF)
Cooperating partner(s) Stellen für Suchtprävention im Kanton Zürich


The introduction to the use of substances such as alcohol, tobacco or cannabis often takes place during adolescence. Comprehensive life-skill programmes that impart interpersonal skills and simultaneously address social influences have proven to be effective in preventing entry into substance use. However, nowadays the implementation of these programmes has been very time-consuming and labour intensive, as lessons are being taught over one or more school years. The expenditure of time and resources represents a major barrier to the large-scale implementation of these programs. Mobile phones open up new possibilities to support young people in the training of life skills over a longer period of time. Advantages include greater opportunities for individualisation of content and less personnel and cost-intensive implementation. To date, there are no findings on the effectiveness of mobile phone-based programmes for the prevention of problematic substance consumption by promoting life skills.


The aim of the project is to test the effectiveness of a mobile phone-based programme for addiction prevention by promoting life skills among young people, within the framework of a controlled study with follow-up interviews after 6 and 18 months.


For a period of 6 months, participants in the intervention group receive individualised messages. The goal is to promote their life skills based on the information they provide in an online initial survey in the school classroom and regular surveys via Short Message Service (SMS). By answering quiz questions and participating in contests, the cognitive exploration of the programme content is to be interactively promoted. An incentive to actively participate in the programme is created by linking it to a playful competition in which participants can collect points that increase their chances of winning prizes that are raffled off after the programme ends. Secondary school students (grades 8 and 9) in the Canton of Zurich are invited to participate in the programme in class and are randomly assigned to an intervention group with programme participation or a control group without programme participation. The main outcome criteria are problematic alcohol consumption, cigarette smoking and cannabis consumption in the follow-up survey after 18 months.  


For the first time, this project will test the effectiveness of a mobile phone-based programme for addiction prevention through the promotion of life skills. If this approach proves to be effective, it could be a cost-effective way to promote life skills in large groups of young people and thus reduce problematic substance use at a largescale population level.


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