Background: Strong evidence exists for the efficacy of screening and brief intervention for reducing hazardous drinking. However, problems have been highlighted with respect to its implementation in health-care systems, not least of which is a reluctance of some doctors to discuss alcohol proactively with their patients.
Aims: To determine the efficacy of a novel web-based screening and brief intervention (e-SBI) to reduce hazardous drinking.
Design: A double-blind randomized controlled trial.
Setting: A university student health service.
Participants: A total of 167 students (17-26 years) were recruited in the reception area and completed a 3-minute web-based screen including the Alcohol Use Disorder Identification Test (AUDIT) questionnaire. Of these, 112 tested positive, and 104 (52 females) who consented to follow-up were included in the trial.
Measurements: Drinking frequency, typical occasion quantity, total volume, heavy episode frequency (females > 80 g ethanol, males > 120 g ethanol), number of personal problems, an academic problems score.
Intervention: Participants were randomized to 10-15 minutes of web-based assessment and personalized feedback on their drinking (intervention, n = 51) or to a leaflet-only control group (n = 53).
Findings: Mean baseline AUDIT scores for control and intervention groups were 16.6 (SD = 6.0) and 16.6 (SD = 5.7). At 6 weeks, participants receiving e-SBI reported significantly lower total consumption (geometric mean ratio = 0.74; 95% confidence interval: 0.56-0.96), lower heavy episode frequency (0.63; 0.42-0.92) and fewer personal problems (0.70; 0.54-0.91). At 6 months personal problems remained lower (0.76; 0.60-0.97), although consumption did not differ significantly. At 6 months, academic problems were lower in the intervention group relative to controls (0.72; 0.51-1.02).
Conclusions: e-SBI reduced hazardous drinking among university students, to an extent similar to that found for practitioner-delivered brief interventions in the general population. e-SBI offers promise as a strategy to reduce alcohol-related harm in a way that is non-intrusive, appealing to the target group, and capable of being incorporated into primary care. Research is required to replicate the findings, to determine the duration of intervention effects, and to investigate the mechanisms by which the intervention operates.