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One-shot feedback session helps problem drinkers

A single brief intervention that gives problem drinkers personalized feedback can help reduce their alcohol use, new research from the Netherlands shows.

Dr. Heleen Riper of the Trimbos Institute in Utrecht and her colleagues looked at 14 studies of such interventions, including a total of 3,682 people. For every eight people who participated, they found, one could be expected to curb their drinking. “Despite the modest effect sizes overall, personalized feedback could have a major health impact at the population level, in view of the high percentage of problem drinkers who potentially could benefit,” they write in the March issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Brief personalized feedback for problem drinkers typically involves asking people about their own alcohol consumption; providing them with information on how much their peers drink, on average; and offering information on the risks of problem drinking and on self-help measures for drinking less, the researchers explain. These interventions can be offered over the Internet or by mail, without a therapist’s guidance.

Nine of the 14 studies were done with college or university students, four included people recruited from the adult population at large, and one was done with employees at their workplace. Six were done by mail, while the rest were done over the Internet.

The analysis showed that eight people would have to undergo the intervention “in order to generate one good clinical outcome,” Riper and her team say. The results are similar to those seen when primary care providers give patients face-to-face advice on reducing alcohol use.

“Brief web-based personalized-feedback interventions appear to be more readily accepted by both young and mature risky drinkers, as the unobtrusive nature of the intervention allays fears of stigmatization and violation of privacy,” the researchers add. “The constant availability of these web-based interventions makes it more convenient to take part.”

More research should be done to determine whether these interventions are indeed cost effective, Riper and her colleagues conclude, and whether they might help people address mental health problems or unhealthy behaviors such as overeating.

source: American Journal of Preventive Medicine

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