Effectiveness of Brief Intervention for Heavy Drinkers

Effectiveness of Brief InterventionWidely Shown

The effectiveness of brief intervention has been widely studied. This analysis of the research evidence examined the results of 73 such studies. All focused on alcohol use among heavy drinking college students.

All of the studies examined the effectiveness of brief interventions. They were all only one session only. Researchers compared each study with usual treatment or no treatment.

The results were clear. Single-session brief alcohol interventions, on average, greatly reduced drinking among college students who were heavy drinkers. This was true when compared to usual treatment and to no treatment.

Analysts also studied motivational enhancement therapy/motivational interviewing. They found it was more effective than psycho-educational therapy interventions.

The effectiveness of brief intervention has been clearly shown in the research literature. Not surprisingly, short-term brief intervention effects were greater than long-term effects.

Why It Works

effectiveness of brief intervention

Brief intervention appear to be effective for two basic reasons. First, they lead people to think about their use of alcohol. Is it helping them achieve their goals? Is it causing them harm  in any way? Would they be better off reducing their level of consumption? Would they be better off drinking less often? And so on. Second, brief intervention points them in the direction of learning skills to help them reduce their drinking.

The effectiveness of brief intervention is important. This is because traditional approaches to the problem have not proven very effective. In particular, efforts to promote alcohol abstinence among college students have consistently failed. Brief interventions reduce the problems of alcohol abuse. They do not entirely eliminate them. Nothing achieves that goal.  But moving people toward safer drinking behaviors is a major achievement.


Samson, J., and Tanner-Smith, E. Single-session alcohol interventions for heavy drinking college students: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Stud Alco Drugs, 76(4), 530-543.