Brief Intervention Can Reduce College Alcohol Abuse

by Bob Curley

Brief interventions can be effective in cutting alcohol use by college students, and the methods used to deliver these interventions -- including e-mail and the Internet ­ may hold promise for other populations, researchers say.

A host of studies have shown that brief interventions for alcohol and other drug abuse work in general, but there is little research on how brief the interventions should be, how long they should last, and how results differ by age, ethnicity, or other demographic factors.

"We don't know much about why they work or for whom, or even what is brief," said researcher Mary Larimer of the University of Washington Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.

Studies of feedback surveys delivered to college students, however, indicate that interventions can be "pretty doggone brief" and still be effective in cutting drinking, Larimer said at the recent Research Society on Alcoholism annual meeting, held in San Francisco, Calif.

For example, a World Health Organization study conducted in Australia found that even five minutes of simple advice delivered to people identified as problem drinkers could cut consumption by more than 25 percent.

Feedback evaluations are the briefest of brief interventions, according to Scott Walters, a researcher at the VA Boston Healthcare System and Boston University School of Medicine. San Diego State University's Check-up to Go intervention tool, for example, consists of a feedback form that queries students about how much money they spend on alcohol, family risk, DUI, and norm estimations.

"Students always say 50 percent of students drink more than me, so it can be quite a revelation that they're drinking more than 95 percent of the students on campus," said Walters.

Other approaches to feedback interventions -- which are based on motivational-change theory -- include equating the caloric content of alcohol to cheeseburgers (considered especially effective for female students and athletes), or asking students to name their favorite car, then showing how much they could save over four years to buy it if they weren't spending so much on beer.

A study of feedback interventions delivered to SDSU students referred because of alcohol-related disciplinary violations found that students cut their alcohol consumption by an average of 12.5 drinks per week, said Walters.

In another study, the University of Nebraska at Lincoln mailed feedback forms to sorority pledges, who subsequently reported cutting their alcohol intake from 53 drinks per month to 27. However, "We don't know if those results persist after they go into the sorority house," said Walters, noting that some Greek organizations take a perverse pride in their alcohol consumption, which could negate the impact of feedback evaluations.

Incoming freshmen are another potential target for interventions delivered by mail or e-mail, he said.

Interventions like CHUG can be delivered in-person by a therapist, mailed, e-mailed, or even completed online. "It's a way to give personalized, cost-effective intervention to a large number of students," said Walters.

Added Larimer, "If we can put this on a server and e-mail it, we could have a tremendous public-health impact."

Reprinted from "Briefest Interventions Called Effective Against College Drinking," 0,1854,552958,00.html


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