Do Brief Interventions Help Drinkers With Alcohol-Related Injuries?

Problematic alcohol use is firmly linked to increased risks for getting injured in an accident or receiving an intentional injury. Doctors and other health professionals can potentially reduce the chances that any given person will drink in hazardous ways with the help of informational and educational sessions called brief alcohol interventions. In a study published in May 2014 in the journal Substance Abuse, researchers from three U.S. universities assessed the effectiveness of brief alcohol interventions in people who receive hospital treatment for a serious alcohol-related injury. These researchers concluded that some groups of problem drinkers receive relatively major benefits from interventions in a hospital setting, while others receive smaller benefits.

Problem Drinking

Problem drinking is an informal term that describes any pattern of alcohol consumption that increases a person’s chances of experiencing significant short- or long-term harm. Widespread examples of such a pattern include excessive or heavy drinking and binge drinking. Broadly speaking, heavy drinkers increase their risks for eventually receiving an alcohol use disorder (alcoholism and/or alcohol abuse) diagnosis by consuming too much alcohol on a given day or in a given week. Every episode of daily or weekly overconsumption per month increases the odds of experiencing diagnosable problems. Binge drinkers imbibe enough alcohol in a small span of time to get legally intoxicated. Binge drinking, in particular, is associated with increased risks for accidental injury, as well as increased risks for intentional injury at the hands of others, perpetration of violence toward others, the use of weapons, sexual assault exposure and sexual assault perpetration. However, alcohol consumers who don’t binge drink may also experience these problems. Some public health officials consider binge drinking as one specific example of heavy drinking.

Alcohol, Injury and Brief Intervention

Excessive alcohol intake is the single most common contributor to accidental and intentional injuries in the U.S., according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This fact holds true for both the roughly 4 percent of the population affected by alcoholism and the much larger percentage of the population affected by serious problems with non-addicted alcohol abuse. All told, alcohol consumption plays a role in 75,000 cases of preventable death throughout America every year. This figure marks alcohol-related injury as the third-most common preventable death contributor in the country. The CDC specifically identifies brief alcohol interventions as tools that professionals working in trauma centers and emergency rooms can use to help patients who consume alcohol in problematic ways. These interventions are designed to educate problem drinkers and provide counseling that can reduce the risks for future participation in hazardous alcohol intake.

Effectiveness in Injured Drinkers

In the study published in Substance Abuse, researchers from the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine looked at the effects of brief alcohol interventions in 757 excessive alcohol consumers who received treatment for alcohol-related injuries in a top-level trauma center established to address the most severe forms of injury. The researchers chose to undertake this project, in part, because of a lack of information on which types of people tend to benefit from brief alcohol interventions in such circumstances. For each study participant, they compiled a detailed profile and reviewed the factors that could potentially play a role in injuries stemming from alcohol consumption.

After performing a complex statistical analysis, the researchers concluded that the study participants belonged to five distinct classes or groups, based on factors such as the number of risky drinking behaviors present, past level of involvement in alcohol-related injuries and level of willingness to attribute their current hospital stay to alcohol consumption. Some of these classes or groups benefited from brief alcohol interventions more than others. Those groups most likely to benefit from an intervention included people involved in two or more risky drinking behaviors, people who had previously been in an alcohol-related accident and received treatment for resulting injuries, and people who acknowledged the role of alcohol consumption in their current injured state.

The study’s authors believe their findings indicate that, not only does the success of brief alcohol interventions vary for people with alcohol-related injuries, but also that it’s possible to determine which groups of people will most likely benefit from such interventions. However, they consider their results tentative and explicitly call for additional research to test and either confirm or deny their conclusions.