Brief counselling by a doctor can reduce drinking

Peer reviewed: Yes 
Type of study: Systematic review
Subject of study: People

A new systematic review and meta-analysis has found that alcohol-targeted brief interventions (short, structured, one-to-one conversations about drinking designed to motivate changes in risky behaviour) delivered in doctors’ offices and similar medical settings can produce small but useful reductions in drinking.   

Published in the scientific journal Addiction, this review synthesized findings from 116 trials and 64,439 total participants to estimate the efficacy of brief interventions for alcohol and other drug use, delivered in general medical settings.  Alcohol-targeted brief interventions yielded small beneficial effects on alcohol use, equivalent to a reduction in 1 drinking day per month.  Interestingly, the findings were inconclusive for brief interventions delivered in emergency department/trauma centers but were effective when delivered in other general medical settings (e.g., a primary care clinic). There was limited evidence regarding the effects of drug-targeted brief interventions on drug use.  

Lead author Emily Tanner-Smith comments: “A reduction of one drinking day per month may not sound like much, but small individual reductions can add up to a substantial reduction in population level harms.  Given their brevity, low cost, and minimal clinician effort, brief interventions may be a promising way to reduce alcohol use, one patient at a time.”  

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For editors:

This paper is free to download for one month from the Wiley Online Library: or by contacting Jean O’Reilly, Editorial Manager, Addiction,

To speak with lead author, Thomson Professor Emily Tanner-Smith: contact her at the University of Oregon by email ( or telephone (+541-346-2365).

Full citation for article: Tanner-Smith EE, Parr NJ, Schweer-Collins M, and Saitz R (2021) Effects of Brief Substance Use Interventions Delivered in General Medical Settings: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Addiction: doi:10.1111/add.15674

Funding: This work was supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse [R01DA029785].

Addiction ( is a monthly international scientific journal publishing peer-reviewed research reports on alcohol, substances, tobacco, and gambling as well as editorials and other debate pieces. Owned by the Society for the Study of Addiction, it has been in continuous publication since 1884.