BACKGROUND AND AIMS: Despite ambiguous evidence for the effectiveness of alcohol screening with brief interventions (BI) in emergency departments (ED), ambition for their widespread implementation continues to grow. To clarify whether such an application of BI is justifiable, we conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis on studies testing the impact of BI on alcohol consumption.
METHODS: We included peer-reviewed, randomized controlled studies investigating the effects of BI on alcohol consumption in injured and/or intoxicated patients, published January 2002-September 2015. Changes from baseline in consumption quantity, intensity and number of heavy drinking episodes were assessed at 3-, 6- and 12-month follow-up, resulting in nine separate random-effects meta-analyses of standardized mean differences (SMD). Moderation effects of intervention mode, length, type of interventionist, intensity of control intervention and study quality were assessed using subgroup comparisons and meta-regression.
RESULTS: We considered 33 publications (28 separate studies) including 14 456 patients. Six of nine comparisons revealed small significant effects in favour of BI, with the highest SMD at 0.19 [95% confidence interval (CI) = 0.08-0.31]. No significant moderators could be identified, and statistical heterogeneity (I(2) ) was below 40%.
CONCLUSIONS: In a large meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials in emergency care settings, there was evidence for very small effects of brief interventions on alcohol consumption reductions. More intensive interventions showed no benefit over shorter approaches. Non-face-to-face interventions appear to be comparably effective, but this finding remains tentative due to the low number of non-face-to-face studies.