Rates and predictors of brief intervention for women veterans returning from recent wars: Examining gaps in service delivery for unhealthy alcohol use

J Subst Abuse Treat. 2021 Apr:123:108257. doi: 10.1016/j.jsat.2020.108257. Epub 2020 Dec 24.


Background: Approximately one in four women veterans accessing the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) engage in unhealthy alcohol use. There is substantial evidence for gender-sensitive screening (AUDIT-C = 3) and brief intervention (BI) to reduce risks associated with unhealthy alcohol use in women veterans; however, VA policies and incentives remain gender-neutral (AUDIT-C = 5). Women veterans who screen positive at lower-risk-level alcohol use (AUDIT-C = 3 or 4) may screen out and therefore not receive BI. This study aimed to examine gaps in implementation of BI practice for women veterans through identifying rates of BI at different alcohol risk levels (AUDIT-C = 3-4; =5-7; =8-12), and the role of alcohol risk level and other factors in predicting receipt of BI.

Methods: From administrative data (2010-2016), we drew a sample of women veterans returning from recent wars who accessed outpatient and/or inpatient care. Of 869 women veterans, 284 screened positive for unhealthy alcohol use at or above a gender-sensitive cut-point (AUDIT-C ≥ 3). We used chart review methods to abstract variables from the medical record and then employed logistic regression comparing women veterans who received BI at varying alcohol risk levels to those who did not.

Results: While almost 60% of the alcohol positive-risk sample received BI, among the subset of women veterans who screened positive for lower-risk alcohol use (57%; AUDIT-C = 3 or 4) only 34% received BI. Nurses in primary care programs were less likely to deliver BI than other types of clinicians (e.g., physicians, psychologists, social workers) in mental health programs; further, nurses in women's health programs were less likely to deliver BI than other types of clinicians in mixed-gender programs; Those women veterans with more medical problems were no more likely to receive BI than those with fewer medical problems.

Conclusions: Given that women veterans are a rapidly growing veteran population and a VA priority, underuse of BI for women veterans screening positive at a lower-risk level and those with more medical comorbidities requires attention, as do potential gaps in service delivery of BI in primary care and women's health programs. Women veterans health and well-being may be improved by tailoring screening for a younger cohort of women veterans at high-risk for, or with co-occurring disorders and then training providers in best practices for BI implementation.

Keywords: Brief intervention; Gender; Unhealthy alcohol use; Veterans; Women.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking
  • Alcoholism*
  • Crisis Intervention
  • Female
  • Humans
  • United States
  • United States Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Veterans*