Adolescents in their late teens and early twenties have the highest alcohol consumption in the United States; binge drinking peaks at age 21 years. Underage drinking is associated with many negative consequences, including academic problems and risk of intentional and unintentional injuries. This study tested the effectiveness of pediatric emergency department (PED) screening and brief intervention to reduce alcohol consumption and associated risks.
A three-group randomized assignment trial was structured to test differences between intervention (I) and standard assessed control (AC) groups in alcohol consumption and alcohol-related behaviors from baseline to 12 months, and to compare the AC group with a minimally assessed control group (MAC) to adjust for the effect of assessment reactivity on control group behavior. Patients aged 14–21 years were eligible if they screened positive on the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT), or for binge drinking or high-risk behaviors. The MAC group received a resource handout, written advice about alcohol-related risks, and a 12-month follow-up appointment. Patients in the AC group were assessed using standardized instruments in addition to the MAC protocol. The intervention group received a peer-conducted motivational intervention, erral to community resources and treatment if indicated, and a ten-day booster in addition to assessment. Measurements included 30 day self-report of alcohol consumption and alcohol-related behaviors, screens for depression and posttraumatic stress disorder, and self-report of attempts to quit, cut back, or change conditions of use, all repeated at follow-up. Motor vehicle records and medical records were also analyzed for changes from baseline to one year follow-up.
Among 7,807 PED patients screened, 1,202 were eligible; 853 enrolled (I n = 283; AC n = 284; MAC n = 286), with a 12-month follow-up rate of 72%. At 12 months, more than half of enrollees in RAP (Reaching Adolescents for Prevention) attempted to cut back on drinking, and over a third tried to quit. A significantly larger proportion of the I group made efforts to quit drinking and to be careful about situations when drinking compared to AC enrollees, and there was a numerically but not significantly greater likelihood (p = 0.065) among the I group for efforts to cut back on drinking. At three months, the likelihood of the I group making attempts to cut back was almost triple that of ACs. For efforts to quit, it was double, and for trying to be careful about situations when drinking, there was a 72% increase in the odds ratio for the I group. Three-month results for attempts were sustained at 12 months for quit attempts and efforts to be careful. Consumption declined in both groups from baseline to 3 months to 12 months, but there were no significant between-group differences in alcohol-related consequences at 12 months, or in alcohol-related risk behaviors. We found a pattern suggestive of assessment reactivity in only one variable at 12 months: the attempt to cut back (73.3% for the I group vs. 64.9% among the AC group, and 54.8% among the MAC group).
Brief motivational intervention resulted in significant efforts to change behavior (quit drinking and be careful about situations while drinking) but did not alter between-group consumption or consequences.