Brief alcohol intervention and alcohol assessment do not influence alcohol use in injured patients treated in the emergency department: a randomized controlled clinical trial


Jean-Bernard Daeppen, Alcohol Treatment Center, Mont-Paisible 16, CHUV 1011 Lausanne, Switzerland. E-mail:


Aims  To evaluate the effectiveness of brief alcohol intervention (BAI) in reducing alcohol use among hazardous drinkers treated in the emergency department (ED) after an injury; in addition it tests whether assessment of alcohol use without BAI is sufficient to reduce hazardous drinking.

Design  Randomized controlled clinical trial with 12-month follow-up conducted between January 2003 and June 2005.

Setting  Urban academic emergency department (ED) of the Lausanne University Hospital, Lausanne, Switzerland.

Participants  A total of 5136 consecutive patients attending ED after an injury completed a seven-item general and a three-item alcohol screen and 1472 (28.7%) were positive for hazardous drinking according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Addiction definition; of these 987 (67.1%) were randomized into a BAI group (n = 310) or a control group with screening and assessment (n = 342) or a control group with screening only (n = 335) and then a total of 770 patients (78.0%) completed the 12-month follow-up procedures.

Intervention  A single 10–15-minute session of standardized BAI conducted by a trained research assistant.

Measurements  Percentage of participants who have changed to low-risk drinking at follow-up.

Findings  Data obtained at 12 months indicated that similar proportions were low-risk drinkers in BAI versus control groups with and without assessment (35.6%, 34.0%, 37.0%, respectively, P = 0.71). Data also indicated similar reductions in drinking frequency, quantity, binge drinking frequency and Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) scores across groups. All groups reported similar numbers of days hospitalized and numbers of medical consults in the last 12 months. A model including age groups, gender, AUDIT and injury severity scores indicated that BAI had no influence on the main alcohol use outcome.

Conclusions  This study provides the evidence that a 10–15-minute BAI does not decrease alcohol use and health resource utilization in hazardous drinkers treated in the ED, and demonstrates that commonly found decreases in hazardous alcohol use in control groups cannot be attributed to the baseline alcohol assessment.