Brief Intervention for Alcohol Abuse among Young People

Here journalist Bob Curley explains that brief intervention for alcohol abuse can effectively help young prople. The process can be simple, easy, and inexpensive.


Brief interventions can be effective in cutting alcohol use by college students. The methods used to deliver these interventions — including e-mail and the Internet ­– can also help other groups.

Many studies show that brief interventions for alcohol abuse work in general. But there is little research on how brief the interventions should be. On how long they should last. Or on how results differ by age, race, or other factors.

“We don’t know much about why they work or for whom, or even what is brief,” said researcher Mary Larimer. She’s at the U of WA.

Can be Very Brief

Studies show that brief interventions can be very brief and still be effective in cutting drinking, Larimer said.

brief intervention for alcohol abuseFor example, a WHO study was done. It found that even five minutes of simple advice given problem drinkers could cut consumption by more than 25%.

Feedback evaluations are the briefest of brief interventions. That’s according to Scott Walters. He’s a researcher at the VA. For example, the Check-up to Go tool is simple. It’s a form that asks students about how much money they spend on alcohol. On family. On DUI. And norm estimates.


brief intervention for alcohol abuse“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.

There are other approaches to feedback interventions. Some are based on motivation. For example, they might equate the caloric content of beer to cheeseburgers. This may be especially effective for females and athletes. Or they may ask students to name their favorite car. Then students learn how much they could save over four years to buy it if they spent less on beer.

A study was done of feedback interventions delivered to students. They were guilty of alcohol violations. It found that students cut their drinking by an average of 12.5 drinks per week, said Walters.

Another college mailed feedback forms to sorority pledges. The students later reported cutting their alcohol intake from 53 drinks per month to 27. But “We don’t know if those results persist after they go into the sorority house,” said Walters. He noted that some Greek groups take a perverse pride in their drinking. This could negate the impact of feedback evaluations.

New Students

brief intervention for alcohol abuseIncoming freshmen are another potential target for interventions, he said.

Interventions 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 great public-health impact.”

Brief Intervention for Alcohol Abuse

    • Dimeff, L., et al. BASICS..
    • Kilmer, J., et al. Reducing harms of student drinking. Addict Res Theo, 20, 227-235.
    • Kilmer, J., & Logan, D. Applying harm reduction. In C. Correia et al., (Eds.)  College Student Alcohol Abuse. Pp. 146-165.
    • Now you know that brief intervention for alcohol works.
    • Reprinted by permission from JoinTogrther’s “Briefest Interventions Effective Against College Drinking.” Edited and headings added.