Brief interventions: good in theory but weak in practice

Drug Alcohol Rev. 2004 Mar;23(1):11-8. doi: 10.1080/09595230410001645510.


A substantial body of research evidence has accumulated in support of the efficacy of brief interventions for a number of alcohol and drug-related problem areas, most notably alcohol and tobacco. This evidence has been used to exhort a range of professional groups such as general practitioners (GPs), and more recently emergency department hospital staff to engage in brief interventions. Internationally, however, these secondary prevention efforts have largely failed. Why have these proven interventions not been embraced by frontline workers? This is a little-asked question as efforts to press-gang unwilling professionals to take up the cudgel continue. This paper examines the characteristics of brief interventions and their principal delivery agents and explores reasons for the failure to move from efficacy to effectiveness. Given the prevention potential that rests with brief intervention, these are crucial questions to address. A key feature of brief intervention delivery also examined is the role of GPs versus the less well-explored option of the practice nurse. It will be proposed that perhaps we have the right vehicle but the wrong driver and that until closer scrutiny is made of this issue efforts in this key prevention area will continue to fail to achieve optimum results.

MeSH terms

  • Alcoholism / diagnosis
  • Alcoholism / epidemiology
  • Alcoholism / prevention & control*
  • Alcoholism / psychology
  • Australia
  • Directive Counseling
  • Humans
  • Nursing, Private Duty / organization & administration*
  • Nursing, Private Duty / standards
  • Patient Education as Topic
  • Primary Health Care / organization & administration*
  • Primary Health Care / standards
  • Substance Abuse Detection / methods
  • Time Factors
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / diagnosis
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / epidemiology
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / prevention & control*
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / psychology