Systematic Review of Guidelines on Managing Patients with Harmful Use of Alcohol in Primary Healthcare Settings

Alcohol Alcohol. 2017 Sep 1;52(5):595-609. doi: 10.1093/alcalc/agx034.


Aim: To appraise existing alcohol guidelines for identifying and managing harmful alcohol use in primary healthcare settings.

Methods: Seven databases and 18 health organization or medical society websites were systematically searched from inception to 31 October 2016. Guidelines in English language, developed by a national or international medical specialty society, government or health organization, and containing recommendations for identifying and managing harmful use of alcohol in primary healthcare settings, were included. The Appraisal of Guidelines Research and Evaluation II (AGREE II) instrument was used to appraise the guidelines.

Results: Of the 970 literature identified, 17 were included for review, with 13 guidelines developed for use in Western countries and 4 for international use. The AGREE II scores ranged from 2.0 to 5.3, out of 7. Variations in terminology of harmful alcohol use were seen, with 'harmful drinking' and 'problem drinking' being mostly used. All guidelines were in favor of screening and brief interventions due to their effectiveness and cost-effectiveness. Potential benefits and costs of applying screening and brief interventions were found, but there was a lack of evidence for long-term effects or specific populations.

Conclusions: All 17 guidelines recommended screening and brief interventions due to its associated health and financial benefits. Policy makers are highly encouraged to integrate these practices into primary healthcare settings taking the drinking status, culture and resources into account.

Short summary: Screening and brief interventions were recommended by all 17 guidelines on managing patients with harmful use of alcohol in primary healthcare settings. Policy makers and healthcare practitioners are highly encouraged to implement these recommendations.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcoholism / prevention & control*
  • Humans
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic / standards*
  • Primary Health Care / standards*