The Cochrane 2018 Review on Brief Interventions in Primary Care for Hazardous and Harmful Alcohol Consumption: A Distillation for Clinicians and Policy Makers

Alcohol Alcohol. 2019 Jul 1;54(4):417-427. doi: 10.1093/alcalc/agz035.


Aims: An updated Cochrane systematic review assessed effectiveness of screening and brief intervention to reduce hazardous or harmful alcohol consumption in general practice or emergency care settings. This paper summarises the implications of the review for clinicians.

Methods: Cochrane methods were followed. Reporting accords with PRISMA guidance. We searched multiple resources to September 2017, seeking randomised controlled trials of brief interventions to reduce hazardous or harmful alcohol consumption in people attending general practice, emergency care or other primary care settings for reasons other than alcohol treatment. Brief intervention was defined as a conversation comprising five or fewer sessions of brief advice or brief lifestyle counselling and a total duration of less than 60 min. Our primary outcome was alcohol consumption, measured as or convertible to grams per week. We conducted meta-analyses to assess change in consumption, and subgroup analyses to explore the impact of participant and intervention characteristics.

Results: We included 69 studies, of which 42 were added for this update. Most studies (88%) compared brief intervention to control. The primary meta-analysis included 34 studies and provided moderate-quality evidence that brief intervention reduced consumption compared to control after one year (mean difference -20 g/wk, 95% confidence interval -28 to -12). Subgroup analysis showed a similar effect for men and women.

Conclusions: Brief interventions can reduce harmful and hazardous alcohol consumption in men and women. Short, advice-based interventions may be as effective as extended, counselling-based interventions for patients with harmful levels of alcohol use who are presenting for the first time in a primary care setting.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Administrative Personnel*
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology
  • Alcohol Drinking / psychology
  • Alcohol Drinking / therapy*
  • Alcoholism / epidemiology
  • Alcoholism / psychology
  • Alcoholism / therapy
  • Dangerous Behavior*
  • Early Medical Intervention / methods*
  • Humans
  • Physicians*
  • Primary Health Care / methods*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic / methods