Alcohol Screening and Brief Intervention in Primary Care Settings

Michael F. Fleming, M.D., M.P.H.

Primary care practitioners are in a unique position to identify patients with potential alcohol problems and intervene when appropriate. Screening, the process by which practitioners can identify at-risk drinkers, can be followed by one-time or repeated short counseling sessions, known as brief interventions, which are designed to help the patient reduce drinking and minimize related problems. Varied levels of screening and brief intervention can be implemented in the primary care setting, depending on patient and physician factors. Although screening and brief intervention are valuable tools, they are underutilized in primary care practices. Strategies that may help increase physicians’ use of these techniques in the primary care setting include skills-based role-playing, performance feedback, clinical protocols, clinic-based education, and training by credible experts.

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