Ultra-brief intervention for problem drinkers: Steps to a full intervention trial

First published: 10 May 2019 | Last updated: 20 May 2019


Helping the large number of problem drinkers who will never seek treatment is a challenging issue. Public health initiatives employing educational materials or mass media campaigns have met with mixed success. However, clinical research has developed effective brief interventions to help problem drinkers. This project employs an intervention that has been validated in clinical settings and then modified into an ultra-brief format suitable for use as a public health intervention. The major objective of this series of studies is to evaluate the effectiveness of an ultra-brief, personalized feedback pamphlet intervention for problem drinkers.


One pilot study and one randomized control trial have been conducted as initial evaluations of the personalized feedback pamphlet. Based on positive preliminary results in both these trials (results will be described in this presentation), a full-scale intervention trial is now underway. In this full-scale trial, problem drinkers recruited on a baseline population telephone survey conducted in a major metropolitan city in Canada will be randomized to one of three conditions – a personalized feedback pamphlet condition, a control pamphlet condition, or a no intervention control condition. In the week after the baseline survey, households in the two pamphlet conditions will be sent their respective pamphlets. Changes in drinking will be assessed post intervention at three-month and six-month follow-ups.


The pilot study found that, among problem drinkers who perceived some risk associated with their drinking, respondents who were in households that received the intervention pamphlet were drinking less than those who were in households that did not receive the pamphlet (p < .05). The second trial focussed on problem drinkers who were interested in receiving self-help materials. In this trial, problem drinkers who received the intervention displayed a 10% reduction in per-occasion binge drinking (i.e., consuming 5 or more standard drinks per occasion), compared to controls (p < .01). The need for, and design of, the ongoing full-scale intervention trial will also be described.


These studies provide useful information on the effectiveness of a pamphlet-based personalized feedback intervention for problem drinkers in a community setting.

Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov registration #NCT00688584.

Conflict of interest: No conflicts of interest to declare.


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John Cunningham