Brief Counseling Reduces Alcohol Problems

Physicians who spent only a few minutes counseling young patients about reducing their consumption of alcohol successfully reduced high-risk drinking as well as the number of motor vehicle crashes, emergency room visits, and arrests for alcohol or controlled substance violations.

Adults age 18 to 30 were randomly assigned to either a usual care or brief intervention group. There were no significant differences between the two groups at the beginning of the study. During the four-year follow-up period it was found that brief intervention resulted in significant reductions in high-risk drinking behaviors and negative consequences.

Comparing the results of those who received brief counseling with those who did not, the researchers found that counseling resulted in a 40 to 50% decrease in alcohol consumption, a 42% drop emergency room visits, a 55% decline in motor vehicle crashes, and a 100% reduction in arrests for alcohol or other substance violations.

With regard to alcohol, there were significant reductions in number of persons drinking more than 3 drinks per day, average 7-day alcohol use, number of persons drinking 6 or more drinks per occasion, and number of “binge” drinking episodes in the previous 30 days.

Given its dramatic effectiveness, the authors recommend that primary care doctors and other providers make brief counseling a high priority for high-risk drinking in young adults.


  • Grossberg, Paul M., Brown, David D., and Fleming, Michael F. Brief physician advise for high-risk drinking young adults. Annals of Family Medicine, 2004, 2, 474-480