Problematic alcohol and other substance use among patients presenting to emergency services in South Africa: Who is ready for change?

S Afr Med J. 2017 Mar 29;107(4):352-353. doi: 10.7196/SAMJ.2017.v107i4.10791.


Background: Studies that identify factors associated with intervention uptake are urgently needed in poorly resourced healthcare systems. This is important, as knowing who is likely to engage may lead to intervention targeting, which is an efficient use of scarce health resources.

Objective: To identify patient characteristics that predict the acceptance of a brief intervention for substance use delivered in emergency departments (EDs).

Methods: Patients presenting to three EDs were screened for substance use using the Alcohol, Smoking, and Substance Involvement Screening Test (ASSIST). All patients identified as at risk for substance use problems were offered a brief psychotherapy intervention focused on substance user education. Data were collected on patients' age, sex, presenting condition (injury/no injury), type of substance used, and severity of substance use. Logistic regression analysis was used to identify variables that predicted acceptance of the offer of a brief intervention.

Results: Being between the ages of 25 and 39 years increased the likelihood of accepting an offer of help compared with 18 - 24-year-olds. Polysubstance users were less likely to accept an offer of help than patients with problematic alcohol use only, while patients with higher ASSIST scores were more likely to accept an offer of help than those with lower scores.

Conclusions: Findings suggest that more work is needed to understand the mechanisms underlying treatment acceptance. Brief interventions delivered in ED services in countries such as South Africa should target alcohol users with higher ASSIST scores in order to ensure the efficient use of scarce health resources.