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Crit Care Med. 2011 Jun;39(6):1500-6. doi: 10.1097/CCM.0b013e31821858bb.

Secondary prevention in the intensive care unit: does intensive care unit admission represent a "teachable moment?".

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University of Colorado Denver, Division of Pulmonary Sciences and Critical Care Medicine, Aurora, CO, USA.



Cigarette smoking and unhealthy alcohol use are common causes of preventable morbidity and mortality that frequently result in admission to an intensive care unit. Understanding how to identify and intervene in these conditions is important because critical illness may provide a "teachable moment." Furthermore, the Joint Commission recently proposed screening and receipt of an intervention for tobacco use and unhealthy alcohol use as candidate performance measures for all hospitalized patients. Understanding the efficacy of these interventions may help drive evidence-based institution of programs, if deemed appropriate.


A summary of the published medical literature on interventions for unhealthy alcohol use and smoking obtained through a PubMed search.


Interventions focusing on behavioral counseling for cigarette smoking in hospitalized patients have been extensively studied. Several studies include or focus on critically ill patients. The evidence demonstrates that behavioral counseling leads to increased rates of smoking cessation but the effect depends on the intensity of the intervention. The identification of unhealthy alcohol use can lead to brief interventions. These interventions are particularly effective in trauma patients with unhealthy alcohol use. However, the current literature would not support routine delivery of brief interventions for unhealthy alcohol use in the medical intensive care unit population.


Intensive care unit admission represents a "teachable moment" for smokers and some patients with unhealthy alcohol use. Future studies should assess the efficacy of brief interventions for unhealthy alcohol use in medical intensive care unit patients. In addition, identification of the timing and optimal individual to conduct the intervention will be necessary.

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