• alcohol;
  • alcohol dependence;
  • primary care;
  • brief intervention;
  • systematic review


Issues.Although screening and brief intervention (BI) in the primary-care setting reduces unhealthy alcohol use, its efficacy among patients with dependence has not been established. This systematic review sought to determine whether evidence exists for BI efficacy among patients with alcohol dependence identified by screening in primary-care settings.

Approach.We included randomised controlled trials (RCTs) extracted from eight systematic reviews and electronic database searches published through September 2009. These RCTs compared outcomes among adults with unhealthy alcohol use identified by screening who received BI in a primary-care setting with those who received no intervention.

Key Findings.Sixteen RCTs, including 6839 patients, met the inclusion criteria. Of these, 14 excluded some or all persons with very heavy alcohol use or dependence; one in which 35% of 175 patients had dependence found no difference in an alcohol severity score between groups; and one in which 58% of 24 female patients had dependence showed no efficacy.

Conclusion and Implications.Alcohol screening and BI has efficacy in primary care for patients with unhealthy alcohol use, but there is no evidence for efficacy among those with very heavy use or dependence. As alcohol screening identifies both dependent and non-dependent unhealthy use, the absence of evidence for the efficacy of BI among primary-care patients with screening-identified alcohol dependence raises questions regarding the efficiency of screening and BI, particularly in settings where dependence is common. The finding also highlights the need to develop new approaches to help such patients, particularly if screening and BI are to be disseminated widely.[Saitz R. Alcohol screening and brief intervention in primary care: Absence of evidence for efficacy in people with dependence or very heavy drinking. Drug Alcohol Rev 2010;29;631–640]