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Drug Alcohol Depend. 2008 Mar 1;93(3):244-51. Epub 2007 Dec 3.

Evaluation of a telephone-based stepped care intervention for alcohol-related disorders: a randomized controlled trial.

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University of Luebeck, Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Ratzeburger Allee 160, 23538 Luebeck, Federal Republic of Germany.



Brief interventions for problem drinking in medical settings are effective but rarely conducted, mainly due to insufficient time. A stepped care approach (starting with a very brief intervention and intensifying efforts in case of no success) could save resources and enlarge effectiveness; however, research is lacking. The present study compares a full care brief intervention for patients with at-risk drinking, alcohol abuse or dependence with a stepped care approach in a randomized controlled trial.


Participants were proactively recruited from general practices in two northern German cities. In total, 10,803 screenings were conducted (refusal rate: 5%). Alcohol use disorders according to DSM-IV were assessed with the Munich-Composite International Diagnostic Interview (M-CIDI). Eligible participants were randomly assigned to one of three conditions: (1) stepped care (SC): a computerized intervention plus up to three 40-min telephone-based interventions depending on the success of the previous intervention; (2) full-care (FC): a computerized intervention plus a fixed number of four 30-min telephone-based interventions that equals the maximum of the stepped care intervention; (3) an untreated control group (CG). Counseling effort in the intervention conditions and quantity/frequency of drinking were assessed at 12-month follow-up.


SC participants received roughly half of the amount of intervention in minutes compared to FC participants. Both groups did not differ in drinking outcomes. Compared to CG, intervention showed small to medium effect size for at-risk drinkers.


Study results reveal that a stepped care approach can be expected to increase cost-effectiveness of brief interventions for individuals with at-risk drinking.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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