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Alcohol brief interventions

Evidence Rating

Scientifically Supported

Health Factors

Alcohol brief intervention programs provide information and increase motivation to change or prevent problematic alcohol consumption in a short session; sessions usually last five to ten minutes, with a maximum duration of one hour. Brief interventions often include screening, feedback on clients’ behavior, and advice and decision making support to encourage change (Cochrane-Carney 2016). Such interventions can be administered in person by health care providers, trained counselors, social workers or others, or delivered through electronic devices such as computers, telephones, or mobile devices (CG-Alcohol).

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Reduced alcohol use

  • Reduced excessive drinking

  • Reduced underage drinking

  • Reduced alcohol-related harms

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is strong evidence that alcohol brief interventions reduce alcohol consumption and excessive drinking among adults when administered in primary care (, NICE-Jackson 2010, WHO-SBI) and general hospital settings (), and reduce alcohol consumption among adolescents and young adults when administered in school and college settings (Cochrane-Carney 2016, , ). Such interventions have also been shown to modestly reduce alcohol-related injuries (NICE-Jackson 2010, ).

Brief interventions in emergency departments appear to modestly decrease alcohol consumption and heavy drinking among patients who are injured or intoxicated (). School-based alcohol brief interventions can reduce alcohol consumption among adolescents (Cochrane-Carney 2016), especially when individually delivered (Hennessy 2015). Brief interventions that focus on adults in general hospital and primary care settings appear to be more effective for men than women ().

Electronic screening and brief interventions (e-SBI) reduce alcohol consumption among youth and college students; effects are strongest in the short-term (Campbell-Smedslund 2017, Donoghue 2014). e-SBI conducted in college, health care, and community settings can also reduce excessive drinking and alcohol-related harms (CG-Alcohol).

Alcohol brief interventions appear to be cost effective approaches to reducing harmful alcohol consumption (IAS-Anderson 2006, WHO-SBI, NICE-Jackson 2010).

Impact on Disparities

No impact on disparities likely

Implementation Examples

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)’s Screening, Brief Intervention, Referral and Treatment (SBIRT) program conducts demonstration projects across the country that assess and disseminate information on new SBIRT methods (SAMHSA-SBIRT).

Implementation Resources

NHMA-SBIRT 2006 - National Hispanic Medical Association (NHMA). NHMA screening and brief intervention toolkit for the Hispanic patient. Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), US Department of Transportation (US DOT); 2006.

CDC-Higgins-Biddle 2009 - Higgins-Biddle J, Hungerford D, Cates-Wessel K. Screening and brief interventions (SBI) for unhealthy alcohol use: A step-by-step implementation guide for trauma centers. Atlanta: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCIPC); 2009.

APHA-SBI Manual 2008 - American Public Health Association and Education Development Center, Inc (APHA). Alcohol screening and brief intervention: A guide for public health practitioners. Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), US Department of Transportation (US DOT); 2008.

SAMHSA-SBIRT - Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Screening, brief intervention, and referral to treatment (SBIRT).

CDC-SBI 2014 - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Planning and implementing screening and brief intervention for risky alcohol use: A step-by-step guide for primary care practices. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities (NCBDDD); 2014.

IRETA-SBIRT toolkit - Institute for Research, Education, & Training in Addictions (IRETA). Screening, Brief Intervention & Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) toolkit.

NIAAA-SBI youth - National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Alcohol screening and brief intervention for youth: A practitioner's guide. National Institutes of Health (NIH), US Department of Health and Human Services (US DHHS); 2011.

Citations - Evidence

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

IAS-Anderson 2006 - Anderson P, Baumberg B. Alcohol in Europe: A public health perspective. London, UK: Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS); 2006.

CG-Alcohol - The Guide to Community Preventive Services (The Community Guide). Excessive alcohol consumption.

WHO-SBI - World Health Organization (WHO). Screening and brief intervention for alcohol problems in primary health care.

Cochrane-Kaner 2007* - Kaner EF, Dickinson HO, Beyer FR, et al. Effectiveness of brief alcohol interventions in primary care populations. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2007;(2):CD004148.

Seigers 2010* - Seigers DKL, Carey KB. Screening and brief interventions for alcohol use in college health centers: A review. Journal of American College Health. 2010;59(3):151-8.

Cochrane-Dinh-Zarr 2004* - Dinh-Zarr TB, Gross CW, Heitman E, Roberts IG, DiGuiseppi C. Interventions for preventing injuries in problem drinkers. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2004;(3):CD001857.

Cochrane-McQueen 2011* - McQueen J, Howe TE, Allan I, Mains D, Hardy V. Brief interventions for heavy alcohol users admitted to general hospital wards. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2011;(8):CD005191.

NICE-Jackson 2010 - Jackson R, Johnson M, Campbell F, et al. Screening and brief interventions for prevention and early identification of alcohol use disorders in adults and young people. Sheffield: School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR) Public Health Collaborating Centre, University of Sheffield; 2010.

Alvarez-Bueno 2015* - Álvarez-Bueno C, Rodríguez-Martín B, García-Ortiz L, Gómez-Marcos MÁ, Martínez-Vizcaíno V. Effectiveness of brief interventions in primary health care settings to decrease alcohol consumption by adult non-dependent drinkers: A systematic review of systematic reviews. Preventive Medicine. 2015;76(Suppl):S33-S38.

Campbell-Smedslund 2017 - Smedslund G, Wollscheid S, Fang L, et al. Effect of early, brief computerized interventions on risky alcohol and cannabis use among young people. Campbell Systematic Reviews. 2017;6.

Cochrane-Carney 2016 - Carney T, Myers BJ, Louw J, Okwundu CI. Brief school-based interventions and behavioural outcomes for substance-using adolescents (Review). Carney T, ed. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2016;(1):CD008969.

Donoghue 2014 - Donoghue K, Patton R, Phillips T, Deluca P, Drummond C. The effectiveness of electronic screening and brief intervention for reducing levels of alcohol consumption: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Medical Internet Research. 2014;16(6):e142.

Hennessy 2015 - Hennessy EA, Tanner-Smith EE. Effectiveness of brief school-based interventions for adolescents: A meta-analysis of alcohol use prevention programs. Prevention Science. 2015;16(3):463-474.

Schmidt 2016* - Schmidt CS, Schulte B, Seo HN, et al. Meta-analysis on the effectiveness of alcohol screening with brief interventions for patients in emergency care settings. Addiction. 2016;111(5):783-794.

Tanner-Smith 2016* - Tanner-Smith EE, Risser MD. A meta-analysis of brief alcohol interventions for adolescents and young adults: Variability in effects across alcohol measures. The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse. 2016;42(2):140-151.

Citations - Implementation Examples

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

SAMHSA-SBIRT - Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Screening, brief intervention, and referral to treatment (SBIRT).

Date Last Updated

Aug 16, 2017