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J Gen Intern Med. 1997 May;12(5):274-83.

Meta-analysis of randomized control trials addressing brief interventions in heavy alcohol drinkers.

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Department of Medicine, University of Wisconsin Medical School, Madison, USA.



To assess the effectiveness of brief interventions in heavy drinkers by analyzing the outcome data and methodologic quality.


(1) Qualitative analysis of randomized control trials (RCTs) using criteria from Chalmers' scoring system; (2) calculating and combining odds ratios (ORs) of RCTs using the One-Step (Peto) and the Mantel-Haenszel methods. STUDY SELECTION AND ANALYSIS: A MEDLINE and PsycLIT search identified RCTs testing brief interventions in heavy alcohol drinkers. Brief interventions were less than 1 hour and incorporated simple motivational counseling techniques much like outpatient smoking cessation programs. By a single-reviewer, nonblinded format, eligible studies were selected for adult subjects, sample sizes greater than 30, a randomized control design, and incorporation of brief alcohol interventions. Methodologic quality was assessed using an established scoring system developed by Chalmers and colleagues. Outcome data were combined by the One-Step (Peto) method; confidence limits and chi 2 test for heterogeneity were calculated.


Twelve RCTs met all inclusion criteria, with an average quality score of 0.49 + or - 0.17. This was comparable to published average scores in other areas of research (0.42 + or - 0.16). Outcome data from RCTs were pooled, and a combined OR was close to 2 (1.91; 95% confidence interval 1.61-2.27) in favor of brief alcohol interventions over no intervention. This was consistent across gender, intensity of intervention, type of clinical setting, and higher-quality clinical trials.


Heavy drinkers who received a brief intervention were twice as likely to moderate their drinking 6 to 12 months after an intervention when compared with heavy drinkers who received no intervention. Brief intervention is a low-cost, effective preventive measure for heavy drinkers in outpatient settings.

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