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To evaluate the effectiveness of a brief intervention in hospitalized Taiwanese men to reduce unhealthy alcohol consumption.Randomized controlled trial.Medical/surgical wards of a medical centre in Taipei, Taiwan.Of 3669 consecutive adult male in-patients, 616 were identified as unhealthy alcohol users (>14 drinks/week) and assigned randomly to either usual care (n = 308) or a brief intervention (n = 308).Primary outcomes were changes in alcohol consumption at 4, 9 and 12 months, including self-reported weekly alcohol consumption, drinking days and heavy drinking episodes assessed by 7-day time-line follow-back. Secondary outcomes were (i) self-reported alcohol problems, (ii) health-care utilization (hospital days and emergency department visits), (iii) self-reported seeking of speciality treatment for alcohol problems and (iv) 3-month Quick Drinking Screen.Based on intention-to-treat analyses, the intervention group consumed significantly less alcohol than the control group among both unhealthy drinkers and the subgroup of alcohol-dependent participants over 12 months, on both 7-day and 3-month assessments. Adjunctive analyses of only those who completed all assessments found that total drinks consumed did not remain significant. Significantly more participants with alcohol use disorders in the intervention than in the control group (8.3%, 19 of 230 versus 2.1%, four of 189) consulted specialists by 12 months (P = 0.01). However, alcohol-related problems and health-care utilization did not differ significantly in the two groups during follow-up.Data from Taiwan confirm that brief in-hospital intervention can result in a reduction in alcohol intake by men who drink heavily or are diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder.