Background: Robust evidence supports the effectiveness of screening and brief alcohol interventions in primary healthcare. However, lack of understanding about their “active ingredients” and concerns over the extent to which current approaches remain faithful to their original theoretical roots has led some to demand a cautious approach to future roll-out pending further research. Against this background, this paper provides a timely overview of the development of the brief alcohol intervention evidence base to assess the extent to which it has achieved the four key levels of intervention research: efficacy, effectiveness, implementation, and demonstration.
Methods: Narrative overview based on (1) the results of a review of systematic reviews and meta-analyses of the effectiveness of brief alcohol intervention in primary healthcare and (2) synthesis of the findings of key additional primary studies on the improvement and evaluation of brief alcohol intervention implementation in routine primary healthcare.
Results: The brief intervention field seems to constitute an almost perfect example of the evaluation of a complex intervention. Early evaluations of screening and brief intervention approaches included more tightly controlled efficacy trials and have been followed by more pragmatic trials of effectiveness in routine clinical practice. Most recently, attention has shifted to dissemination, implementation, and wider-scale roll-out. However, delivery in routine primary health remains inconsistent, with an identified knowledge gap around how to successfully embed brief alcohol intervention approaches in mainstream care, and as yet unanswered questions concerning what specific intervention component prompt the positive changes in alcohol consumption.
Conclusion: Both the efficacy and effectiveness of brief alcohol interventions have been comprehensively demonstrated, and intervention effects seem replicable and stable over time, and across different study contexts. Thus, while unanswered questions remain, given the positive evidence amassed to date, research efforts should maintain a continued focus on promoting sustained implementation of screening and brief alcohol intervention approaches in primary care to ensure that those who might benefit from screening and brief alcohol interventions actually receive such support.
brief alcohol intervention; efficacy; effectiveness; implementation; research needs; secondary prevention; primary care
Alcohol misuse is common in people attending emergency departments (EDs) and there is some evidence of efficacy of alcohol screening and brief interventions (SBI). This study investigated the effectiveness of SBI approaches of different intensities delivered by ED staff in nine typical EDs in England: the SIPS ED trial.
Methods and Findings
Pragmatic multicentre cluster randomized controlled trial of SBI for hazardous and harmful drinkers presenting to ED. Nine EDs were randomized to three conditions: a patient information leaflet (PIL), 5 minutes of brief advice (BA), and referral to an alcohol health worker who provided 20 minutes of brief lifestyle counseling (BLC). The primary outcome measure was the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) status at 6 months. Of 5899 patients aged 18 or more presenting to EDs, 3737 (63·3%) were eligible to participate and 1497 (40·1%) screened positive for hazardous or harmful drinking, of whom 1204 (80·4%) gave consent to participate in the trial. Follow up rates were 72% (n = 863) at six, and 67% (n = 810) at 12 months. There was no evidence of any differences between intervention conditions for AUDIT status or any other outcome measures at months 6 or 12 in an intention to treat analysis. At month 6, compared to the PIL group, the odds ratio of being AUDIT negative for brief advice was 1·103 (95% CI 0·328 to 3·715). The odds ratio comparing BLC to PIL was 1·247 (95% CI 0·315 to 4·939). A per protocol analysis confirmed these findings.
SBI is difficult to implement in typical EDs. The results do not support widespread implementation of alcohol SBI in ED beyond screening followed by simple clinical feedback and alcohol information, which is likely to be easier and less expensive to implement than more complex interventions.
Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN 93681536
Many primary care patients with raised blood pressure or depression drink potentially hazardous levels of alcohol. Brief interventions (BI) to reduce alcohol consumption may improve comorbid conditions and reduce the risk of future alcohol problems. However, research has not established their effectiveness in this patient population. This study aimed to establish the feasibility of definitive trials of BI to reduce excessive drinking in primary care patients with hypertension or mild to moderate depression.
Thirteen general practices in North East England were randomized to the intervention or control arm of one of two parallel pilot trials. Adult patients drinking excessively and diagnosed with hypertension or mild-to-moderate depression received the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) by postal survey. Consenting respondents scoring more than 7 on AUDIT (score range 0 to 40) received brief alcohol consumption advice plus an information leaflet (intervention) or an information leaflet alone (control) with follow-up at six months. Measurements included the numbers of patients eligible, recruited, and retained, and the AUDIT score and systolic/diastolic blood pressure of each patient or the nine-item Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9) score. Acceptability was assessed via practitioner feedback and patient willingness to be screened, recruited, and retained at follow-up.
In the hypertension trial, 1709 of 33,813 adult patients (5.1%) were eligible and were surveyed. Among the eligible patients, 468 (27.4%) returned questionnaires; 166 (9.6% of those surveyed) screened positively on AUDIT and 83 (4.8% of those surveyed) were recruited (50.0% of positive screens). Sixty-seven cases (80.7% of recruited patients) completed follow-up at six months. In the depression trial, 1,044 of 73,146 adult patients (1.4%) were eligible and surveyed. Among these eligible patients, 215 (20.6%) responded; 104 (10.0% of those surveyed) screened positively on AUDIT and 29 (2.8% of those surveyed) were recruited (27.9% of positive screens). Nineteen cases (65.5% of recruited patients) completed follow-up at six months.
Recruitment and retention rates were higher in the hypertension trial than in the depression trial. A full brief intervention trial appears feasible for primary care patients with hypertension who drink excessively. High AUDIT scores in the depression trial suggest the importance of alcohol intervention in this group. However, future work may require alternative screening and measurement procedures.
Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN89156543; registered 21 October 2013.
Alcohol; Screening; Brief intervention; Comorbid; Hypertension; Depression; Primary care; Trial; Preventive; Feasibility
New clinical research findings may require clinicians to change their behaviour to provide high-quality care to people with type 2 diabetes, likely requiring them to change multiple different clinical behaviours. The present study builds on findings from a UK-wide study of theory-based behavioural and organisational factors associated with prescribing, advising, and examining consistent with high-quality diabetes care.
To develop and evaluate the effectiveness and cost of an intervention to improve multiple behaviours in clinicians involved in delivering high-quality care for type 2 diabetes.
We will conduct a two-armed cluster randomised controlled trial in 44 general practices in the North East of England to evaluate a theory-based behaviour change intervention. We will target improvement in six underperformed clinical behaviours highlighted in quality standards for type 2 diabetes: prescribing for hypertension; prescribing for glycaemic control; providing physical activity advice; providing nutrition advice; providing on-going education; and ensuring that feet have been examined. The primary outcome will be the proportion of patients appropriately prescribed and examined (using anonymised computer records), and advised (using anonymous patient surveys) at 12 months. We will use behaviour change techniques targeting motivational, volitional, and impulsive factors that we have previously demonstrated to be predictive of multiple health professional behaviours involved in high-quality type 2 diabetes care. We will also investigate whether the intervention was delivered as designed (fidelity) by coding audiotaped workshops and interventionist delivery reports, and operated as hypothesised (process evaluation) by analysing responses to theory-based postal questionnaires. In addition, we will conduct post-trial qualitative interviews with practice teams to further inform the process evaluation, and a post-trial economic analysis to estimate the costs of the intervention and cost of service use.
Consistent with UK Medical Research Council guidance and building on previous development research, this pragmatic cluster randomised trial will evaluate the effectiveness of a theory-based complex intervention focusing on changing multiple clinical behaviours to improve quality of diabetes care.
Aims: The aim of the study was to assess the cumulative evidence on the effectiveness of brief alcohol interventions in primary healthcare in order to highlight key knowledge gaps for further research. Methods: An overview of systematic reviews and meta-analyses of the effectiveness of brief alcohol intervention in primary healthcare published between 2002 and 2012. Findings: Twenty-four systematic reviews met the eligibility criteria (covering a total of 56 randomized controlled trials reported across 80 papers). Across the included studies, it was consistently reported that brief intervention was effective for addressing hazardous and harmful drinking in primary healthcare, particularly in middle-aged, male drinkers. Evidence gaps included: brief intervention effectiveness in key groups (women, older and younger drinkers, minority ethnic groups, dependent/co-morbid drinkers and those living in transitional and developing countries); and the optimum brief intervention length and frequency to maintain longer-term effectiveness. Conclusion: This overview highlights the large volume of primarily positive evidence supporting brief alcohol intervention effects as well as some unanswered questions with regards to the effectiveness of brief alcohol intervention across different cultural settings and in specific population groups, and in respect of the optimum content of brief interventions that might benefit from further research.
Aim: The aim of the study was to explore the evidence base on alcohol screening and brief intervention for adolescents to determine age appropriate screening tools, effective brief interventions and appropriate locations to undertake these activities. Methods: A review of existing reviews (2003–2013) and a systematic review of recent research not included in earlier reviews. Results: The CRAFFT and AUDIT tools are recommended for identification of ‘at risk’ adolescents. Motivational interventions delivered over one or more sessions and based in health care or educational settings are effective at reducing levels of consumption and alcohol-related harm. Conclusion: Further research to develop age appropriate screening tools needs to be undertaken. Screening and brief intervention activity should be undertaken in settings where young people are likely to present; further assessment at such venues as paediatric emergency departments, sexual health clinics and youth offending teams should be evaluated. The use of electronic (web/smart-phone based) screening and intervention shows promise and should also be the focus of future research.
Increasing alcohol consumption among older individuals is a public health concern. Lay understandings of health risks and stigma around alcohol problems may explain why public health messages have not reduced rates of heavy drinking in this sector. A qualitative study aimed to elucidate older people's reasoning about drinking in later life and how this interacted with health concerns, in order to inform future, targeted, prevention in this group. In 2010 a diverse sample of older adults in North East England (ages 50–95) participated in interviews (n = 24, 12 male, 12 female) and three focus groups (participants n = 27, 6 male, 21 female). Data were analysed using grounded theory and discursive psychology methods. When talking about alcohol use older people oriented strongly towards opposed identities of normal or problematic drinker, defined by propriety rather than health considerations. Each of these identities could be applied in older people's accounts of either moderate or heavy drinking. Older adults portrayed drinking less alcohol as an appropriate response if one experienced impaired health. However continued heavy drinking was also presented as normal behaviour for someone experiencing relative wellbeing in later life, or if ill health was construed as unrelated to alcohol consumption. Older people displayed scepticism about health advice on alcohol when avoiding stigmatised identity as a drinker. Drinking patterns did not appear to be strongly defined by gender, although some gendered expectations of drinking were described. Identities offer a useful theoretical concept to explain the rises in heavy drinking among older populations, and can inform preventive approaches to tackle this. Interventions should engage and foster positive identities to sustain healthier drinking and encourage at the community level the identification of heavy drinking as neither healthy nor synonymous with dependence. Future research should test and assess such approaches.
Alcohol use is an important issue among problem drug users. Although screening and brief intervention (SBI) are effective in reducing problem alcohol use in primary care, no research has examined this issue among problem drug users.
The objective of this study is to determine if a complex intervention including SBI for problem alcohol use among problem drug users is feasible and acceptable in practice. This study also aims to evaluate the effectiveness of the intervention in reducing the proportion of patients with problem alcohol use.
Psychosocial intervention for alcohol use among problem drug users (PINTA) is a pilot feasibility study of a complex intervention comprising SBI for problem alcohol use among problem drug users with cluster randomization at the level of general practice, integrated qualitative process evaluation, and involving general practices in two socioeconomically deprived regions.
Practices (N=16) will be eligible to participate if they are registered to prescribe methadone and/or at least 10 patients of the practice are currently receiving addiction treatment. Patient must meet the following inclusion criteria to participate in this study: 18 years of age or older, receiving addiction treatment/care (eg, methadone), or known to be a problem drug user. This study is based on a complex intervention supporting SBI for problem alcohol use among problem drug users (experimental group) compared to an “assessment-only” control group. Control practices will be provided with a delayed intervention after follow-up. Primary outcomes of the study are feasibility and acceptability of the intervention to patients and practitioners. Secondary outcome includes the effectiveness of the intervention on care process (documented rates of SBI) and outcome (proportion of patients with problem alcohol use at the follow-up). A stratified random sampling method will be used to select general practices based on the level of training for providing addiction-related care and geographical area. In this study, general practitioners and practice staff, researchers, and trainers will not be blinded to treatment, but patients and remote randomizers will be unaware of the treatment.
This study is ongoing and a protocol system is being developed for the study. This study may inform future research among the high-risk population of problem drug users by providing initial indications as to whether psychosocial interventions for problem alcohol use are feasible, acceptable, and also effective among problem drug users attending primary care.
This is the first study to examine the feasibility and acceptability of complex intervention in primary care to enhance alcohol SBI among problem drug users. Results of this study will inform future research among this high-risk population and guide policy and service development locally and internationally.
complex intervention; screening; brief intervention; alcohol; methadone maintenance; primary health care; general practice; substance-related disorders
The European level of alcohol consumption, and the subsequent burden of disease, is high compared to the rest of the world. While screening and brief interventions in primary healthcare are cost-effective, in most countries they have hardly been implemented in routine primary healthcare. In this study, we aim to examine the effectiveness and efficiency of three implementation interventions that have been chosen to address key barriers for improvement: training and support to address lack of knowledge and motivation in healthcare providers; financial reimbursement to compensate the time investment; and internet-based counselling to reduce workload for primary care providers.
In a cluster randomized factorial trial, data from Catalan, English, Netherlands, Polish, and Swedish primary healthcare units will be collected on screening and brief advice rates for hazardous and harmful alcohol consumption. The three implementation strategies will be provided separately and in combination in a total of seven intervention groups and compared with a treatment as usual control group. Screening and brief intervention activities will be measured at baseline, during 12 weeks and after six months. Process measures include health professionals’ role security and therapeutic commitment of the participating providers (SAAPPQ questionnaire). A total of 120 primary healthcare units will be included, equally distributed over the five countries. Both intention to treat and per protocol analyses are planned to determine intervention effectiveness, using random coefficient regression modelling.
Effective interventions to implement screening and brief interventions for hazardous alcohol use are urgently required. This international multi-centre trial will provide evidence to guide decision makers.
ClinicalTrials.gov. Trial identifier: NCT01501552
Alcohol; Screening; Brief interventions; Primary healthcare; Training and support; Financial reimbursement; Internet; Implementation
Recent evidence shows that workers in white collar roles consume more alcohol than other groups within the workforce, yet little is known about their views of drinking.
Focus groups were conducted in five workplaces to examine the views of white collar workers regarding the effect of alcohol use on personal and professional lives, drinking patterns and perceived norms. Analysis followed the method of constant comparison.
Alcohol use was part of everyday routine. Acceptable consumption and ‘excess’ were framed around personal experience and ability to function rather than quantity of alcohol consumed. Public health messages or the risk of adverse health consequences had little impact on views of alcohol consumption or reported drinking.
When developing public health alcohol interventions it is important to consider the views of differing groups within the population. Our sample considered public health messages to be of no relevance to them, rather they reinforced perceptions that their own alcohol use was controlled and acceptable. To develop effective public health alcohol interventions the views of this group should be examined in more detail.
Alcohol; Focus groups; Public health; Norms
Risky drinking in pregnancy by UK women is likely to result in many alcohol-exposed pregnancies. Studies from the USA suggest that brief intervention has promise for alcohol risk reduction in antenatal care. However, further research is needed to establish whether this evidence from the USA is applicable to the UK. This pilot study aims to investigate whether pregnant women can be recruited and retained in a randomized controlled trial of brief intervention aimed at reducing risky drinking in women receiving antenatal care.
The trial will rehearse the parallel-group, non-blinded design and procedures of a subsequent definitive trial. Over 8 months, women aged 18 years and over (target number 2,742) attending their booking appointment with a community midwife (n = 31) in north-east England will be screened for alcohol consumption using the consumption questions of the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT-C). Those screening positive, without a history of substance use or alcohol dependence, with no pregnancy complication, and able to give informed consent, will be invited to participate in the trial (target number 120). Midwives will be randomized in a 1:1 ratio to deliver either treatment as usual (control) or structured brief advice and referral for a 20-minute motivational interviewing session with an alcohol health worker (intervention). As well as demographic and health information, baseline measures will include two 7-day time line follow-back questionnaires and the EuroQoL EQ-5D-3 L questionnaire. Measures will be repeated in telephone follow-ups in the third trimester and at 6 months post-partum, when a questionnaire on use of National Health Service and social care resources will also be completed. Information on pregnancy outcomes and stillbirths will be accessed from central health service records before the follow-ups. Primary outcomes will be rates of eligibility, recruitment, intervention delivery, and retention in the study population, to inform power calculations for a definitive trial. The health-economics component will establish how cost-effectiveness will be assessed, and examine which data on health service resource use should be collected in a main trial. Participants’ views on instruments and procedures will be sought to confirm their acceptability.
The study will produce a full trial protocol with robust sample-size calculations to extend evidence on effectiveness of screening and brief intervention.
Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN43218782
Pregnancy; Alcohol; Screening; Brief intervention; Trial; Midwife; Motivational interviewing; Public health
Whilst the overall proportion of young people drinking alcohol in the United Kingdom has decreased in recent years, those who do drink appear to drink a larger amount, and more frequently. Early and heavy drinking by younger adolescents is a significant public health problem linked to intellectual impairment, increased risk of injuries, mental health issues, unprotected or regretted sexual experience, violence, and sometimes accidental death, which leads to high social and economic costs. This feasibility pilot trial aims to explore the feasibility of delivering brief alcohol intervention in a school setting with adolescents aged 14 and 15 and to examine the acceptability of study measures to school staff, young people and parents.
Methods and design
Seven schools across one geographical area in the North East of England will be recruited. Schools will be randomly allocated to one of three conditions: provision of an advice leaflet (control condition, n = 2 schools); a 30-minute brief interactive session, which combines structured advice and motivational interviewing techniques delivered by the school learning mentor (level 1 condition, n = 2 schools); and a 60-minute session involving family members delivered by the school learning mentor (level 2 condition, n = 3 schools). Participants will be year 10 school pupils (aged 14 and 15) who screen positively on a single alcohol screening question and who consent to take part in the trial. Year 10 pupils in all seven schools will be followed up at 6 and 12 months. Secondary outcome measures include the ten-question Alcohol-Use Disorders Identification Test. The EQ-5D-Y and a modified short service use questionnaire will inform the health and social resource costs for any future economic evaluation.
Young people recruited into the trial will also complete a 28-day timeline follow back questionnaire at 12-month follow-up. A qualitative evaluation (with young people, school staff, learning mentors, and parents) will examine facilitators and barriers to the use of screening and brief intervention approaches in the school setting in this age group.
Trial reference number ISRCTN07073105
Alcohol; Screening and brief intervention; Feasibility pilot trial; Motivational interviewing; Young people
The delivery of brief interventions (BIs) in health care settings to reduce problematic alcohol consumption is a key preventive strategy for public health. However, evidence of effectiveness beyond primary care is inconsistent. Patient populations and intervention components are heterogeneous. Also, evidence for successful implementation strategies is limited. In this article, recent literature is reviewed covering BI effectiveness for patient populations and subgroups, and design and implementation of BIs. Support is evident for short-term effectiveness in hospital settings, but long-term effects may be confounded by changes in control groups. Limited evidence suggests effectiveness with young patients not admitted as a consequence of alcohol, dependent patients, and binge drinkers. Influential BI components include high-quality change plans and provider characteristics. Health professionals endorse BI and feel confident in delivering it, but training and support initiatives continue to show no significant effects on uptake, prompting calls for systematic approaches to implementing BI in health care.
Brief intervention; Alcohol; Problem drinking; Health care; Effectiveness; Implementation; Review
Aims: To ascertain the views of general practitioners (GPs) regarding the prevention and management of alcohol-related problems in practice, together with perceived barriers and incentives for this work; to compare our findings with a comparable survey conducted 10 years earlier. Methods: In total, 282 (73%) of 419 GPs surveyed in East Midlands, UK, completed a postal questionnaire, measuring practices and attitudes, including the Shortened Alcohol and Alcohol Problems Perception Questionnaire (SAAPPQ). Results: GPs reported lower levels of post-graduate education or training on alcohol-related issues (<4 h for the majority) than in 1999 but not significantly so (P = 0.031). In the last year, GPs had most commonly requested more than 12 blood tests and managed 1–6 patients for alcohol. Reports of these preventive practices were significantly increased from 1999 (P < 0.001). Most felt that problem or dependent drinkers' alcohol issues could be legitimately (88%, 87%) and adequately (78%, 69%) addressed by GPs. However, they had low levels of motivation (42%, 35%), task-related self-esteem (53%, 49%) and job satisfaction (15%, 12%) for this. Busyness (63%) and lack of training (57%) or contractual incentives (48%) were key barriers. Endorsement for government policies on alcohol was very low. Conclusion: Among GPs, there still appears to be a gap between actual practice and potential for preventive work relating to alcohol problems; they report little specific training and a lack of support. Translational work on understanding the evidence-base supporting screening and brief intervention could incentivize intervention against excessive drinking and embedding it into everyday primary care practice.
A large number of randomised controlled trials in health settings have consistently reported positive effects of brief intervention in terms of reductions in alcohol use. However, although alcohol misuse is common amongst offenders, there is limited evidence of alcohol brief interventions in the criminal justice field. This factorial pragmatic cluster randomised controlled trial with Offender Managers (OMs) as the unit of randomisation will evaluate the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of different models of screening to identify hazardous and harmful drinkers in probation and different intensities of brief intervention to reduce excessive drinking in probation clients.
Methods and design
Ninety-six OMs from 9 probation areas across 3 English regions (the North East Region (n = 4) and London and the South East Regions (n = 5)) will be recruited. OMs will be randomly allocated to one of three intervention conditions: a client information leaflet control condition (n = 32 OMs); 5-minute simple structured advice (n = 32 OMs) and 20-minute brief lifestyle counselling delivered by an Alcohol Health Worker (n = 32 OMs). Randomisation will be stratified by probation area. To test the relative effectiveness of different screening methods all OMs will be randomised to either the Modified Single Item Screening Questionnaire (M-SASQ) or the Fast Alcohol Screening Test (FAST). There will be a minimum of 480 clients recruited into the trial. There will be an intention to treat analysis of study outcomes at 6 and 12 months post intervention. Analysis will include client measures (screening result, weekly alcohol consumption, alcohol-related problems, re-offending, public service use and quality of life) and implementation measures from OMs (the extent of screening and brief intervention beyond the minimum recruitment threshold will provide data on acceptability and feasibility of different models of brief intervention). We will also examine the practitioner and organisational factors associated with successful implementation.
The trial will evaluate the impact of screening and brief alcohol intervention in routine probation work and therefore its findings will be highly relevant to probation teams and thus the criminal justice system in the UK.
Ethical approval was given by Northern & Yorkshire REC
Trial Registration number
There have been many randomized controlled trials of screening and brief alcohol intervention in primary care. Most trials have reported positive effects of brief intervention, in terms of reduced alcohol consumption in excessive drinkers. Despite this considerable evidence-base, key questions remain unanswered including: the applicability of the evidence to routine practice; the most efficient strategy for screening patients; and the required intensity of brief intervention in primary care. This pragmatic factorial trial, with cluster randomization of practices, will evaluate the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of different models of screening to identify hazardous and harmful drinkers in primary care and different intensities of brief intervention to reduce excessive drinking in primary care patients.
Methods and design
GPs and nurses from 24 practices across the North East (n = 12), London and South East (n = 12) of England will be recruited. Practices will be randomly allocated to one of three intervention conditions: a leaflet-only control group (n = 8); brief structured advice (n = 8); and brief lifestyle counselling (n = 8). To test the relative effectiveness of different screening methods all practices will also be randomised to either a universal or targeted screening approach and to use either a modified single item (M-SASQ) or FAST screening tool. Screening randomisation will incorporate stratification by geographical area and intervention condition. During the intervention stage of the trial, practices in each of the three arms will recruit at least 31 hazardous or harmful drinkers who will receive a short baseline assessment followed by brief intervention. Thus there will be a minimum of 744 patients recruited into the trial.
The trial will evaluate the impact of screening and brief alcohol intervention in routine practice; thus its findings will be highly relevant to clinicians working in primary care in the UK. There will be an intention to treat analysis of study outcomes at 6 and 12 months after intervention. Analyses will include patient measures (screening result, weekly alcohol consumption, alcohol-related problems, public service use and quality of life) and implementation measures from practice staff (the acceptability and feasibility of different models of brief intervention.) We will also examine organisational factors associated with successful implementation.
Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN06145674.