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Alcohol is the world's third leading cause of ill-health and premature death. Alcohol has been found to be the most harmful drug, when considering harm to the individual and to others. With a prespecified search strategy we looked for relevant articles concerning screening, brief interventions and referral to treatment of patients with hazardous or harmful alcohol use, with a special focus on the primary healthcare implementation of these effective interventions.The evidence on the efficacy and effectiveness of brief interventions in primary care continues to grow and is confirmed by many recent studies, even in specific populations. The implementation of those effective interventions continues to be difficult, but successful experiences have been reported. The use of brief interventions in other healthcare settings and to address problems other than risky drinking is promising, but the evidence is far from conclusive. Some specific age groups (elderly, women and youth below 16) may deserve specifically tailored interventions.Alcohol is a major public health problem and brief interventions are one of the cost-effective measures that can be taken at a community level. Nevertheless, implementation of those measures is difficult. Further research is needed to identify the best implementation strategies.