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Research Summary

Do Primary Care-based Interventions Decrease Alcohol Use in Older Drinkers?

The benefit of alcohol brief intervention (BI) for older drinkers is uncertain. Prior research showed efficacy but defined at-risk drinking narrowly and did not take into account risk factors more common to older drinkers such as interaction with medications or comorbidities. In this study, researchers randomized 631 at-risk* drinkers aged ≥55 years to intervention (advice from a primary-care provider, personalized printed information, educational material, and telephone follow-up with a health educator at 2, 4, and 8 weeks) or to a control group (educational material only). Participants were primarily male, white, and well-educated. Self-reported baseline consumption averaged 15 drinks per week.

  • At 3 months, intervention-group participants reported fewer drinks per week (8.9 versus 10.7) and were less likely to be at-risk drinkers (50% versus 61%) than controls. However, only fewer drinks per week (9.4 versus 10.7 drinks) remained significant at 12 months.
  • Attrition rates were higher in the intervention group (21% at 3 months and 29% at 12 months) than in the control group (4% at 3 months and 7% at 12 months).
*Comorbidity Alcohol Risk Evaluation Tool (CARET) score of 1–7. The CARET is a validated instrument that assesses for alcohol-related high-risk comorbid conditions and medication use as well as risky patterns of consumption.


The intervention may have decreased alcohol use, but given the significant difference in attrition, the observed benefit could also be the result of dropout by at-risk drinkers. Furthermore, the observation that drinking outcomes improved in both intervention and control groups at 3 and 12 months compared with baseline suggests a research-assessment effect, natural history, potential contamination at the study sites, and/or a stronger than expected effect from the educational materials given to controls. “Booster” follow-up sessions may need to extend beyond 8 weeks to maintain a positive effect in older drinkers. Kevin L. Kraemer, MD, MSc


Moore AA, Blow FC, Hoffing M, et al. Primary care-based intervention to reduce at-risk drinking in older adults: a randomized controlled trial. Addiction. 2011;106 (1):111–120.