Do Brief Measures of Readiness to Change Predict Alcohol Consumption and Consequences in Primary Care Patients With Unhealthy Alcohol Use?

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Assessing readiness to change is recommended as part of brief interventions for patients with unhealthy alcohol use. However, the utility and predictive validity of readiness measures have not been well established.


In a prospective cohort study, we assessed primary care patients with unhealthy alcohol use (past-month drinking of risky amounts, or any amount and an affirmative response to CAGE alcohol screening questionnaire) and reassessed them 6 months later. At study entry, we assessed readiness to change using 1 multi-item measure of stage of change, and 5 single-item measures (readiness per se, importance of changing, confidence in ability to change, intention to cut down, intention to abstain). Outcomes included alcohol consumption and alcohol-related consequences. Multivariable regression models were fit for each measure of readiness and each outcome.


Of 312 patients with unhealthy alcohol use, 228 (73%) were assessed at study entry and 6 months later and had complete data. Among readiness measures, only confidence and intention to abstain (1 point changes on single-item measures) were associated with consumption 6 months later: less heavy episodic drinking [adjusted odds ratio (AOR) 0.88, 95% CI 0.80–0.98 and AOR 0.79, 0.64–0.98, respectively], and less drinking of risky amounts (AOR 0.89, 0.79–1.00 and AOR 0.78, 0.62–0.98, respectively). Intention to abstain was also associated with more abstinence (AOR 1.43, 1.09–1.88). Single-item measures of readiness, importance, and intention to cut down were significantly associated with higher odds of alcohol consequences. Greater confidence (single item) was associated with a lower odds of any consequences (AOR 0.88, 0.79–0.98).


Greater readiness, as measured by several brief assessments, was associated with more consequences and was not predictive of consumption. However, assessing confidence in the ability to change one's alcohol use may have a role in predicting subsequent decreases in both consumption and consequences in primary care patients.

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