Communication during brief intervention, intention to change, and outcome

Subst Abus. 2007;28(3):43-51. doi: 10.1300/J465v28n03_05.


Objectives: To explore the relationship between patient's intention to change regarding future alcohol consumption following brief alcohol intervention (BAI) and changes in alcohol consumption 12-months later and the communication characteristics between patient and counselor during BAI.

Design, setting and subjects: Data from 367 patients (experimental arm) of a pragmatic randomized controlled trial were used to assess the effectiveness of BAI among hazardous drinkers attending an Emergency Department (Lausanne University Hospital, Lausanne, Switzerland). Alcohol outcome measures at baseline and 12 months follow-up included usual number of drinks per week, monthly frequency of heavy episodic drinking (5 or more standard drinks for men; 4 or more for women), and the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) score. In addition, the communication characteristics between patient and counselor were analyzed via tape recordings using the Motivational Interviewing Skill Code (MISC) from 97 participants. Patient readiness and importance to change on a 10-point Likert scale (readiness/importance to change ruler) was asked during BAI, and patient intention to change alcohol consumption (yes/no) was asked at the last step. Differences in alcohol outcome at follow-up between the 367 patients who did or did not have an intention to change consumption at baseline were compared, as were differences between these two groups in communication characteristics for the 97 who completed tape recordings.

Results: Patients with an intention to decrease alcohol consumption reduced alcohol use and related problems more often, and reported higher levels of importance and readiness to change than did their counterparts. Analyses of MISC-coded data showed a significantly higher use of MI-consistent skills among those with a moderation intention, but no group differences on the 8 other counselor communication skills measures were found. Analyses of patient speech during the intervention indicated that those with an intention to change their alcohol consumption significantly more often self-explored personal ambivalence towards alcohol, expressed more intensely their ability, commitment, desire, need and reason to change their alcohol use than did those in the no decrease group.

Conclusions: The intention expressed by hazardous drinkers when concluding BAI is associated with both patient change talk during BAI and drinking outcome 12 months later, but is mainly independent of counselor communication skills. This intention may be an important clinical indicator of which hazardous drinkers are most likely to improve after BAI.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcoholism / therapy*
  • Communication*
  • Humans
  • Intention*
  • Psychotherapy, Brief*
  • Treatment Outcome