Built-in safety mechanisms also will help keep college students safe when they use the alcohol-purchasing BarEye platform. Buying multiple drinks in one night, for example, triggers a notification that offers a cab ride home.
Twenty-first birthdays are cause for celebrations, in part because of the right — and responsibility — with which they are associated: permission to legally drink alcohol.
Seventy percent of college students, including those younger and older than the coveted milestone, report consuming alcohol monthly. “Alcohol consumption peaks around the age of 20 or 21,” says Kenneth Anderson, executive director of Harm Reduction for Alcohol (HAMS), a program that primarily deals with post-graduate adults. Yet substance dependence subsequently drops because of a natural maturity process.
Recognizing that college students eventually reduce binge drinking or abstain from alcohol altogether is important in instructing students, he says, while “preaching abstinence backfires and leads to more binge drinking.”
As abstinence is highly unlikely, a recent slew of mobile applications is about to change the playing field for students — with unknown consequences.
BarZapp serves to combat underage drinking — and, in such states as Washington, where the technology was developed, the illegal sale of marijuana. Intellicheck Mobilisa CEO Nelson Ludlow, whose background is in military intelligence, created the ID-checking mobile app to detect fake forms of identification.
Using a smartphone camera, a bar or restaurant scans an ID’s barcode, instantly verifying authenticity without storing sensitive information.
“Fakes are getting better and better,” Ludlow says, pointing to China as a major manufacturer of the phony cards, “and we’ll keep adapting.”
With more than 1,000 users since the July 1 launch, barZapp is beginning to gain traction.
Drinking responsibly begins before approaching a bar’s front door. Four-year-old Taplister, for example, serves to educate consumers about the beers on tap at local bars across 50 cities nationwide.
Taplister’s target demographic includes adults ages 24 to 50 — not the typical college crowd. Still, Kerry Finsand, founder and “Chief Beer Officer” says that college students can use Taplister to find campus bars that serve their favorite beers or to discover new craft beers.
“If you’re a student, you may start with a Coors Light, then go to a Blue Moon, then move up to a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale,” says Finsand, describing the possibilities of a connoisseur’s changing palate. That palate can belong to anyone, but “first, let’s make sure they’re 21.”
Some applications, including Dash, focus on a customer’s service experience. Set to launch in New York City on Aug. 1, Dash is a mobile app that expedites bill paying, splitting and tipping — all without the physical presence of a waiter. CEO Jeff McGregor wants to “allow people to easily bar-hop,” bouncing around the 50 NYC locations set to use Dash.
Co-founder Gennady Spirin, McGregor’s former Rutgers University classmate, says that Dash will quickly expand to college campuses, a “fantastic market for what we have to offer.”
Built-in safety mechanisms also will help keep college students safe when they use the alcohol-purchasing BarEye platform. Buying multiple drinks in one night, for example, triggers a notification that offers a cab ride home. And bars that allow underage patrons into their venues have the option of selling non-alcoholic drinks through the software.
The app, operational for one year in Tallahassee, but set to expand to New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Atlanta and Austin, already has more than 11,000 users at Florida State University.
How will the emergence of the new drinking applications affect college consumption habits? The answer is not clear.
There has been almost no research about the impact of mobile apps on alcohol consumption, says Aaron White of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).
“We still don’t know whether the apps have any impact at all on what drinkers do,” he says.
Fortunately, apps may hold good news. White’s research has shown that feedback — particularly anonymous, non-human feedback — about how much alcohol a person drinks dramatically reduces future consumption. Part of the problem is that students in particular have trouble recognizing the correct volume of a drink (many overestimate by a factor of three), according to White’s research.
Apps may combat these issues by providing information about blood alcohol content (BAC), for example. Problems arise, though, if information is not accurate.
“Under no circumstances,” says White, program director for Underage and College Drinking Prevention Research, should you “rely on an app to decide whether to drive or to figure out whether you’ve had too much too drink. Accurate information can save your life.”