• Alcohol;
  • behaviour change techniques;
  • brief intervention;
  • taxonomy


Background  Interventions to reduce excessive alcohol consumption have a small but important effect, but a better understanding is needed of their ‘active ingredients’.

Aims  This study aimed to (i) develop a reliable taxonomy of behaviour change techniques (BCTs) used in interventions to reduce excessive alcohol consumption (not to treat alcohol dependence) and (ii) to assess whether use of specific BCTs in brief interventions might be associated with improved effectiveness.

Methods  A selection of guidance documents and treatment manuals, identified via expert consultation, were analysed into BCTs by two coders. The resulting taxonomy of BCTs was applied to the Cochrane Review of brief alcohol interventions, and the associations between the BCTs and effectiveness were investigated using meta-regression.

Findings  Forty-two BCTs were identified, 34 from guidance documents and an additional eight from treatment manuals, with average inter-rater agreement of 80%. Analyses revealed that brief interventions that included the BCT ‘prompt self-recording’ (P = 0.002) were associated with larger effect sizes.

Conclusions  It is possible to identify specific behaviour change techniques reliably in manuals and guidelines for interventions to reduce excessive alcohol consumption. In brief interventions, promoting self-monitoring is associated with improved outcomes. More research is needed to identify other behaviour change techniques or groupings of behaviour change techniques that can produce optimal results in brief interventions and to extend the method to more intensive interventions and treatment of alcohol dependence.