Emergency Room Good Place for Alcohol Interventions
Brief alcohol interventions are short sessions that doctors and other health professionals use to identify people affected by serious drinking problems or at risk for such problems, and also to encourage a switch to safer patterns of alcohol intake. Current evidence indicates that these interventions have a positive effect in a number of settings. In a study published in September 2014 in the journal Substance Abuse, a team of American researchers explored the usefulness of brief alcohol interventions given to young people receiving treatment in an emergency room.
Young People and Alcohol
In the U.S., people between the ages of 21 and 29 are unusually likely to consume alcohol in any given month. In fact, the highest rate of monthly alcohol use for any age group is the 69.2 percent rate maintained by people between the ages of 21 and 25. People in this age range also have the nation’s highest rates for heavy or excessive drinking and binge drinking, two at-risk patterns of alcohol intake clearly linked to seriously increased exposure to alcohol-related harm. Regular heavy drinkers have steeply boosted odds of developing alcohol use disorder (alcohol abuse/alcoholism); in addition to risks for alcohol use disorder, binge drinkers have steeply boosted odds of experiencing the damaging consequences of rapid alcohol intoxication.
Adults between the ages of 26 and 29 also have uncommonly high rates for heavy drinking and binge drinking. Emerging adults between the ages of 18 and 20 consume alcohol less frequently than their older counterparts, but still have fairly high rates of exposure to excessive drinking and alcohol binging. Monthly consumption, heavy drinking and alcohol binging rates are considerably lower for teens below the age of 18.
Brief Alcohol Interventions
At the beginning of a brief alcohol intervention, a trained health professional uses a screening process to uncover the client’s/patient’s typical patterns of alcohol use, as well as the presence of any significant problems linked to alcohol consumption and the presence of any symptoms indicative of diagnosable alcohol use disorder. If the person receiving the intervention is identified as at risk for alcohol use disorder, the health professional uses a collaborative process of dialogue to express his or her concerns and encourage a change in drinking behaviors. If the person receiving the intervention already likely meets the criteria for diagnosing alcohol use disorder, the health professional uses a similar dialoguing process to encourage entry into an alcohol treatment program. While brief interventions are traditionally performed in person, modern technology gives professionals the option to conduct interventions virtually through customized computer programs.
Interventions in the ER
In the study published in Substance Abuse, researchers from the Veterans Administration, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and several departments of the University of Michigan used assessments of 836 teens and adults between the ages of 14 and 20 to investigate the usefulness of brief alcohol interventions provided to young people in emergency rooms. All of these individuals were identified as at risk for serious alcohol problems. One-third of the participants received a brief alcohol intervention administered in person by a trained therapist, while another third received an intervention administered virtually through a computer program. The remaining third of the participants served as a comparison group and did not receive a brief alcohol intervention. In each of the three groups, the researchers looked for indications of a willingness to substantially reduce alcohol intake or quit drinking altogether.
After analyzing the outcomes for the three groups, the researchers concluded that both of the brief alcohol intervention groups displayed a willingness to change some aspects of their at-risk drinking behaviors. Compared to the group that didn’t receive an intervention, the group that received the in-person intervention from a therapist displayed an increased understanding of the need to reduce their alcohol consumption, as well as an increased readiness to bring their alcohol use to a halt. Compared to the group that didn’t receive an intervention, the group that received a virtual intervention displayed an increased understanding of the need to reduce their alcohol consumption, and also identified themselves as more likely to lower their intake.
Overall, the study’s authors concluded that brief alcohol interventions administered to young people in emergency rooms may have a significant positive role to play in the reduction of risky drinking behaviors. They urge future researchers to further explore the specific aspects of brief intervention that provide the most benefit in this setting.