Background: Alcohol use in older adults is common. It is associated with depression, hypertension, diabetes, drug interactions, accidents, and increased rates of emergency department visits and hospitalizations.
Methods: A controlled clinical trial (Project GOAL--Guiding Older Adult Lifestyles) tested the efficacy of brief physician advice in reducing the alcohol use and use of health care services of older adult problem drinkers. Twenty-four community-based primary care practices in Wisconsin (43 family physicians and internists) participated in the trial. Of the 6073 patients screened, 105 men and 53 women met inclusion criteria and were randomized into a control group (n = 71) or an intervention group (n = 87). Intervention group patients received two 10- to 15-minute physician-delivered counseling sessions that included advice, education, and contracting using a scripted workbook. A total of 146 patients (92.4%) participated in the 12-month follow-up procedure.
Results: No significant differences were found between the control and intervention groups at baseline in alcohol use, age, socioeconomic status, depression, onset of alcohol use, smoking status, activity level, or use of mood-altering drugs. The older adults who received the physician intervention demonstrated a significant reduction in 7-day alcohol use, episodes of binge drinking, and frequency of excessive drinking (P <.005) compared with the control group at 3, 6, and 12 months after the intervention. There was a 34% reduction in 7-day alcohol use, 74% reduction in mean number of binge-drinking episodes, and 62% reduction in the percentage of older adults drinking more than 21 drinks per week in the intervention group compared with the control group. There were no significant changes in health status. Patterns of health care utilization were not extensively analyzed because of the small number of events.
Conclusions: This study provides the first direct evidence that brief physician advice can decrease alcohol use by older adults in community-based primary care practices.