Objective: The researchers evaluated the relative effectiveness of 2 interventions for patients with alcohol problems.
Study design: A nonrandomized intervention study was used to compare usual care (control) with a 5- to 15-minute physician-delivered message (brief intervention) and with the physician message plus a 30- to 60-minute visit by a recovering alcoholic (peer intervention). Telephone follow-up was obtained up to 12 months after hospital discharge that focused on patient behaviors during the first 6 months following discharge.
Population: The study included 314 patients with alcohol-related injuries admitted to an urban teaching hospital.
Outcomes measured: Researchers measured complete abstinence from alcohol during the entire 6 months following hospital discharge, abstinence from alcohol during the sixth month following hospital discharge, and initiation of alcohol treatment or self-help within 6 months of hospital discharge.
Results: Valid responses were obtained from 140 patients (45%). Observed success rates were: 34%, 44%, and 59% (P=.012) for abstinence from alcohol since discharge in the usual care group, the brief intervention group, and the peer intervention group, respectively; 36%, 51%, and 64% (P=.006) for abstinence at the sixth month following hospital discharge; and 9%, 15%, and 49% (P &it.001) for initiation of treatment/self-help. During the telephone follow-up interview, several patients in the peer intervention group expressed gratitude for the help they received with their drinking problems while in the hospital. A few patients dramatically changed their lives. They went from being unemployed and homeless to full-time employment and having a permanent residence. They credited the peer intervention as being the most important factor that motivated them to seek help for their alcohol use disorder. One of these individuals serves as a volunteer, visiting hospitalized patients with drinking problems.
Conclusions: Among trauma victims with injuries severe enough to require hospital admission, brief advice from a physician followed by a visit with a recovering alcoholic appears to be an effective intervention. Although further study is needed to confirm these findings, in the meantime physicians can request that members of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) visit their hospitalized patients who have alcohol use disorders. Interventions by recovering alcoholics are part of their twelfth-step work (an essential part of the AA program) and are simple, practical, involve no costs, and pose little patient risk. They can be arranged from the patient's bedside telephone. Some patients will show a dramatic response to these peer visits.