Short- to Midterm Effectiveness of a Brief Motivational Intervention to Reduce Alcohol Use and Related Problems for Alcohol Intoxicated Children and Adolescents in Pediatric Emergency Departments: A Randomized Controlled Trial

Acad Emerg Med. 2017 Feb;24(2):186-200. doi: 10.1111/acem.13126. Epub 2017 Jan 30.


Objectives: The proportion of children and adolescents receiving emergency care for acute alcohol intoxication (AAI) in Germany has sharply increased over the past years. Despite this, no randomized controlled trials (RCTs) have studied guideline- and evidence-based interventions to prevent future alcohol misuse within this population. The objective of our investigation was to evaluate the effectiveness of a brief motivational intervention (b-MI) to reduce drinking and associated problems within pediatric emergency departments (PED) in Hamburg, Germany.

Methods: This stratified cluster-RCT compared a widely established but modified targeted b-MI and treatment as usual (TAU) for patients recruited and treated on Fridays, Saturdays, or Sundays from July 2011 to January 2014 for AAI in EDs of six pediatric hospitals in Hamburg, Germany. Patients under the age of 18 years and their caregivers were included in the study. Intervention was delivered by trained hospital-external staff. The intervention group (n = 141) received a single-session b-MI with a telephone booster after 6 weeks and a brief consultation for caregivers. All intervention material was manual-based. The TAU control group (n = 175) received youth-specific written information on alcohol use and contact information for community resources. Primary outcomes were changes in binge drinking frequency, number of alcoholic drinks on a typical occasion, and alcohol-related problems using the brief Rutgers Alcohol Problem Index. Outcomes were measured by research assistants not involved in intervention delivery. Baseline data were collected in person at the PED, and follow-up data were collected via telephone 3 and 6 months after baseline. Secondary outcome was postenrollment health service utilization. Analyses were based on linear mixed models and intent to treat.

Results: A total of 86.1% (87.5%) of patients in the b-MI group and 82.4% (86.9%) in the TAU group provided valid outcome data after 3 (6) months, respectively. The differences between groups for all outcomes were statistically nonsignificant at both follow-ups (p > 0.05). After 3 months the mean change in binge drinking frequency was -1.36 (95% confidence interval [CI] = -1.81 to -0.91), a reduction of 62.1% in the b-MI group, and -1.29 (95% CI = -1.77 to -0.95), a reduction of 49.0% in the TAU group. The mean change in number of alcoholic drinks on a typical occasion was -2.24 (95% CI = -3.18 to -1.29), a reduction of 37.5% in the b-MI group, and -1.34 (95% CI = -2.54 to -0.14), a reduction of 26.4% in the TAU group. The mean change of alcohol-related problems was -6.72 (95% CI = -7.68 to -5.76), a reduction of 60.5% in the b-MI group, and -6.43 (95% CI = -7.37 to -5.49), a reduction of 58.3% in the TAU group. The differences in mean changes between groups were similar after 6 months for all outcomes.

Conclusion: This study provides new information on the effectiveness of b-MIs delivered at discharge of young AAI patients in emergency care. Both trial groups reduced alcohol use and related problems but the b-MI was not associated with significant effects. Although the intervention approach appears feasible, further considerations of improving the outcomes for this relevant target group are required.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology
  • Alcohol Drinking / prevention & control*
  • Alcoholic Intoxication / epidemiology
  • Alcoholic Intoxication / prevention & control*
  • Binge Drinking / epidemiology
  • Binge Drinking / prevention & control*
  • Consumer Health Information
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Germany / epidemiology
  • Hospitals, Pediatric / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motivational Interviewing / methods*
  • Risk
  • Underage Drinking / statistics & numerical data*

Associated data

  • ISRCTN/ISRCTN31234060