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This paper introduces the concept of risky drinking and considers the potential of alcohol screening and brief intervention (SBI) to reduce alcohol-related problems in medical practice and in organized systems of health care. The research evidence behind this approach is reviewed. Potential strategies for the dissemination of SBI to systems of health care are then discussed within the context of a public health model of clinical preventive services. There is an emerging consensus that SBI should be promoted in general healthcare settings, but further research is needed to determine the best ways to achieve widespread dissemination. In an attempt to provide an integrative model that is relevant to SBI, dissemination strategies are discussed for three target groups: (1) individual patients and practitioners; (2) health care settings and health systems; and (3) the communities and the general population. Dissemination strategies are considered from the fields of social change, social science, commercial marketing and education in terms of their potential for translating SBI innovations into routine clinical practice. One overarching strategy implicit in the approaches reviewed in this article is to embed alcohol SBI in the more general context of preventive health services, the utility of which is becoming increasingly recognized as a critical supplement to more traditional clinical medicine.