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Syst Rev. 2014 May 24;3:50. doi: 10.1186/2046-4053-3-50.

Effectiveness of brief interventions as part of the Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) model for reducing the nonmedical use of psychoactive substances: a systematic review.

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Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (CCSA), 75 Albert Street, Ottawa, Ontario K1P 5E7, Canada.



The purpose of this systematic review is to assess the effectiveness of brief interventions (BIs) as part of the Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) model for reducing the nonmedical use of psychoactive substances.


Bibliographic databases (including MEDLINE, Embase, The Cochrane Library, CINAHL, and PsycINFO to April 2012) and gray literature sources were searched. We included randomized controlled trials that opportunistically screened adolescents or adults and then provided a one-to-one, verbal BI to those at risk of substance-use harm. Of interest was the nonmedical use of psychoactive substances (for example, drugs prohibited by international law), excluding alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine. Interventions comprised four or fewer sessions and were compared with no/delayed intervention or provision of information only. Studies were assessed for bias using the Cochrane risk of bias tool. Results were synthesized narratively. Evidence was interpreted according to the GRADE framework.


We identified 8,836 records. Of these, five studies met our inclusion criteria. Two studies compared BI with no BI, and three studies compared BI with information only. Studies varied in characteristics such as substances targeted, screening procedures, and BI administered. Outcomes were mostly reported by a single study, leading to limited or uncertain confidence in effect estimates.


Insufficient evidence exists as to whether BIs, as part of SBIRT, are effective or ineffective for reducing the use of, or harms associated with nonmedical use of, psychoactive substances when these interventions are administered to nontreatment-seeking, screen-detected populations. Updating this review with emerging evidence will be important.



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