Background: The efficacy of brief intervention in reducing alcohol consumption is well established for selected outpatients but not for medical inpatients.
Objective: To determine whether brief intervention improves alcohol outcomes in medical inpatients who were identified by screening as having unhealthy alcohol use.
Design: Randomized, controlled trial.
Setting: Medical service of an urban hospital.
Patients: 341 medical inpatients who were drinking risky amounts of alcohol (defined for eligibility as >14 drinks/wk or > or =5 drinks/occasion for men and >11 drinks/wk or > or =4 drinks/occasion for women and persons > or =66 y); 77% had alcohol dependence as determined by the Composite International Diagnostic Interview Alcohol Module.
Intervention: A 30-minute session of motivational counseling given by trained counselors during a patient's hospitalization (n = 172) versus usual care (n = 169).
Measurements: Self-reported primary outcomes were receipt of alcohol assistance (for example, alcohol disorders specialty treatment) by 3 months in dependent drinkers and change in the mean number of drinks per day from enrollment to 12 months in all patients.
Results: The intervention was not significantly associated with receipt of alcohol assistance by 3 months among alcohol-dependent patients (adjusted proportions receiving assistance, 49% for the intervention group and 44% for the control group; intervention-control difference, 5% [95% CI, -8% to 19%]) or with drinks per day at 12 months among all patients (adjusted mean decreases, 1.5 for patients who received the intervention and 3.1 for patients who received usual care; adjusted mean group difference, -1.5 [CI, -3.7 to 0.6]). There was no significant interaction between the intervention and alcohol dependence in statistical models predicting drinks per day (P = 0.24).
Limitations: Baseline imbalances existed between randomized groups. Patients who received usual care were assessed and advised that they could discuss their drinking with their physicians.
Conclusions: Brief intervention is insufficient for linking medical inpatients with treatment for alcohol dependence and for changing alcohol consumption. Medical inpatients with unhealthy alcohol use require more extensive, tailored alcohol interventions.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT00183105.