Brief Intervention for Medical Inpatients with Unhealthy Alcohol Use: A Randomized, Controlled Trial

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Abstract

Background:

The efficacy of brief intervention in reducing alcohol consumption is well established for selected outpatients but not for medical inpatients.

Objective:

To determine whether brief intervention improves alcohol outcomes in medical inpatients who were identified by screening as having unhealthy alcohol use.

Design:

Randomized, controlled trial.

Setting:

Medical service of an urban hospital.

Patients:

341 medical inpatients who were drinking risky amounts of alcohol (defined for eligibility as >14 drinks/wk or ≥5 drinks/occasion for men and >11 drinks/wk or ≥4 drinks/occasion for women and persons ≥66 y); 77% had alcohol dependence as determined by the Composite International Diagnostic Interview Alcohol Module.

Intervention:

A 30-minute session of motivational counseling given by trained counselors during a patient’s hospitalization (n = 172) versus usual care (n = 169).

Measurements:

Self-reported primary outcomes were receipt of alcohol assistance (for example, alcohol disorders specialty treatment) by 3 months in dependent drinkers and change in the mean number of drinks per day from enrollment to 12 months in all patients.

Results:

The intervention was not significantly associated with receipt of alcohol assistance by 3 months among alcohol-dependent patients (adjusted proportions receiving assistance, 49% for the intervention group and 44% for the control group; intervention–control difference, 5% [95% CI, −8% to 19%]) or with drinks per day at 12 months among all patients (adjusted mean decreases, 1.5 for patients who received the intervention and 3.1 for patients who received usual care; adjusted mean group difference, −1.5 [CI, −3.7 to 0.6]). There was no significant interaction between the intervention and alcohol dependence in statistical models predicting drinks per day (P = 0.24).

Limitations:

Baseline imbalances existed between randomized groups. Patients who received usual care were assessed and advised that they could discuss their drinking with their physicians.

Conclusions:

Brief intervention is insufficient for linking medical inpatients with treatment for alcohol dependence and for changing alcohol consumption. Medical inpatients with unhealthy alcohol use require more extensive, tailored alcohol interventions.

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