Practitioners Failing at Alcohol Interventions

Practitioners Failing at Alcohol Interventions Alcohol interventions are brief discussions designed to encourage people at risk for serious alcohol problems and people already affected by alcohol abuse or alcoholism to change their drinking behaviors. Professionals not directly involved in substance treatment sometimes receive instruction on how to administer an intervention to potential problems drinkers they encounter while doing their jobs. In a small-scale study scheduled for publication in 2014 in the journal Drug and Alcohol Review, researchers from the United Kingdom’s University of Stirling sought to estimate how often these trained, non-expert professionals actually provide brief alcohol interventions when appropriate.

Brief Alcohol Interventions

As a rule, brief alcohol interventions (also known as alcohol brief interventions) are preceded by short screening sessions designed to identify problematic drinking behaviors that merit serious attention and correction. Such sessions include questions about the amount of alcohol an individual consumes on the average day or in the average week, the individual’s level of repeated exposure to obviously negative consequences of alcohol consumption and the individual’s level of experience with several additional symptoms known to indicate the presence of alcoholism. If a person’s answers indicate increased risks for the onset of alcohol abuse or alcoholism, the professional conducting the screening uses a form of brief intervention aimed at preventing the occurrence of these diagnosable issues. If a person’s answers indicate the current presence of diagnosable alcohol abuse or alcoholism, the follow-up brief intervention will focus on encouraging that person to seek help for his or her condition.

Whether a brief alcohol intervention focuses on at-risk drinking behaviors or existing symptoms of alcohol abuse/alcoholism, the professional administering the intervention tries to relay the information in a supportive, non-confrontational manner that inspires the person to make a self-initiated change in behavior. Doctors, addiction specialists and health professionals who frequently encounter substance users often undergo training designed to promote the effective use of brief intervention techniques.

Training for Non-Expert Professionals

Non-expert professionals in several fields may occasionally or fairly frequently encounter people affected by significant drinking problems. Specific types of professionals with this level of exposure to problem drinking include social workers, mental health professionals who don’t normally deal with alcohol-related issues and certain members of the criminal justice system. A one- or two-day training course in brief alcohol intervention can provide these non-expert professionals with the skills needed to provide advice to the clientele they encounter as part of their normal routines. In turn, even a fairly basic intervention provided by a trained non-expert can substantially improve the odds that an affected person will make changes in his or her pattern of alcohol intake.

How Often Are Interventions Used?

In the study scheduled for publication in Drug and Alcohol Review, the University of Stirling researchers used a series of phone interviews to determine how often non-expert professionals trained in brief alcohol interventions actually provide such interventions in what would appear from the outside to be appropriate circumstances. Fifteen people from a larger group of 89 training enrollees participated in these interviews. The researchers asked these individuals how often they had conducted a brief intervention; they also asked the participants to describe the reasons an intervention was or was not provided for any given individual who might qualify as an at-risk drinker or a drinker already affected by diagnosable alcohol abuse/alcoholism.

The researchers found that less than half of the study participants had administered a brief alcohol intervention in what could be construed as appropriate circumstances. Common reasons cited for this failure to provide an intervention included a belief that affected individuals had drinking problems too severe to tackle in the brief intervention format, a belief that affected individuals had mental health issues that made them unsuitable candidates for alcohol intervention and a belief that a simple referral to other treatment resources was a suitable alternative to providing an intervention. The specific rationales in use typically varied with the type of non-expert professional giving the explanation.

The study’s authors concluded that many of the non-expert professionals who did not provide an alcohol intervention also did not conduct a thorough alcohol screening for their potentially affected clientele. This lack of proper screening may have at least partially hindered the professionals’ ability to assess the need for intervention. Overall, the authors concluded that non-experts must receive assistance above and beyond basic training in order to feel comfortable enough to consistently administer alcohol interventions in appropriate situations.