Brief Intervention Is Insufficient for Medical Inpatients With Unhealthy Drinking
Data show that brief intervention reduces consumption and consequences among outpatients with unhealthy, but not dependent, alcohol use. To assess whether brief interventions work among medical inpatients with unhealthy drinking,* researchers randomized 341 of such patients to a 30-minute session of motivational counseling in the hospital or to usual care.
Most subjects had alcohol dependence, were unemployed during the previous 3 months, used other drugs, and had substantial psychiatric symptoms. Almost half were hospitalized for an alcohol-related medical diagnosis.
- At 3 months among subjects with alcohol dependence, similar proportions of the intervention and control groups received alcohol assistance (e.g., specialty treatment) (49% and 44%, respectively).
- At 12 months among all subjects, decreases in alcohol consumption did not significantly differ between the groups (e.g., adjusted mean decreases in drinks per day, 1.5 for intervention subjects and 3.1 for usual care subjects).
Unlike most brief intervention studies in outpatients, this study enrolled a predominantly alcohol-dependent sample with major comorbidities—a group reflective of the treatment-resistant population identified when screening occurs in inpatient settings. The study suggests that screening, assessment, and brief counseling are necessary but not sufficient to change alcohol consumption in this population. Although the findings are disappointing, this study underscores that alcoholism—like cancer, atherosclerosis and other complex diseases—will not succumb to simple solutions.Peter D. Friedmann, MD, MPH
*Defined in this study as >14 drinks per week or >5 drinks per occasion for men; >11 drinks per week or >4 drinks per occasion for women and people >66 years old
Saitz R, Palfai TP, Cheng DM, et al. Brief intervention for medical inpatients with unhealthy alcohol use: a randomized controlled trial. Ann Intern Med. 2007;146(3):167–176.