Objective: To evaluate the feasibility and efficacy of routine opportunistic screening and brief intervention (BI) by ED staff to reduce high-risk alcohol consumption.
Methods: This was an open, randomized controlled trial with allocation blinding performed over 12 months. Using the Paddington Alcohol Test, adult patients were screened for high-risk alcohol use. Consenting patients who were screened positive were eligible for randomization to no counselling (standard care, SC), same-day BI by an emergency nurse or doctor or motivational intervention (MI) within 1 week by off-site drug and alcohol counsellors. Telephone follow up was performed at 1 and 3 months. The primary outcome was maximum self-reported daily standard drinks consumed. Analysis was by intention to treat.
Results: Of 32,965 eligible patients, 10,274 were screened, 1043 were positive, 468 consented to the study, and 161, 159 and 148 were allocated to SC, BI and MI, respectively. In the MI group, 133 declined intervention or failed to attend. At 3 months, 96, 81 and 74 participants in the SC, BI and MI groups, respectively, were contactable and consented to telephone interview. Overall, maximum daily alcohol consumption decreased from a median of 13.5 standard drinks at enrolment to 9.25 drinks at 3 months. At 3 months, SC participants reported fewer drinks than those randomized to MI.
Conclusion: In the present study, neither BI nor MI was better than SC in reducing high-risk alcohol consumption. Uptake of opportunistic screening by ED staff was poor, as was patient compliance with off-site counselling.