Brief physician- and nurse practitioner-delivered counseling for high-risk drinkers: does it work?

Arch Intern Med. 1999 Oct 11;159(18):2198-205. doi: 10.1001/archinte.159.18.2198.


Background: There is a need for primary care providers to have brief effective methods to intervene with high-risk drinkers during a regular outpatient visit.

Objective: To determine whether brief physician- and nurse practitioner-delivered counseling intervention is efficacious as part of routine primary care in reducing alcohol consumption by high-risk drinkers.

Methods: Academic medical center-affiliated primary care practice sites were randomized to special intervention or to usual care. From a screened population of 9772 patients seeking routine medical care with their primary care providers, 530 high-risk drinkers were entered into the study. Special intervention included training providers in a brief (5- to 10-minute) patient-centered counseling intervention, and an office support system that screened patients, cued providers to intervene, and made patient education materials available. The primary outcome measures were change in alcohol use from baseline to 6 months as measured by weekly alcohol consumption and frequency of binge drinking episodes.

Results: Participants in the special intervention and usual care groups were similar on important background variables and potential confounders except that special intervention participants had significantly higher baseline levels of alcohol usage (P = .01). At 6-month follow-up, in the 91% of the cohort who provided follow-up information, alcohol consumption was significantly reduced when adjusted for age, sex, and baseline alcohol usage (special intervention, -5.8 drinks per week; usual care, -3.4 drinks per week; P = .001).

Conclusions: This study provides evidence that screening and very brief (5- to 10-minute) advice and counseling delivered by a physician or nurse practitioner as part of routine primary care significantly reduces alcohol consumption by high-risk drinkers.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Alcohol Drinking / prevention & control*
  • Alcoholism / prevention & control*
  • Counseling / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internal Medicine*
  • Male
  • Massachusetts
  • Middle Aged
  • Nurse Practitioners*
  • Patient Education as Topic / methods
  • Patient-Centered Care
  • Primary Health Care
  • Risk
  • Time Factors
  • Workforce