Problem drinkers may be willing to curb their habits after only a single self-help session delivered via email or the Internet, a research review suggests.
The findings, say researchers, suggest a relatively simple, low-cost way to motivate heavy drinkers to cut back. Their analysis of 14 previously published studies found that "personalised-feedback interventions" encouraged participants, many of whom were college students, to cut back their drinking after only one session.
For every eight people who participated, one cut back on his or her drinking to moderate levels, the researchers report in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. The feedback sessions essentially got participants to look at their drinking habits - how much or how often they typically drank each week - and compared them to the norm for other people their age. They also learned about the risks of heavy drinking, and the recommended guidelines for "sensible" drinking.
In each study, the interventions were done via email or the Internet. Nine studies targeted college students, one was done in a workplace setting, and the rest recruited adults from the general public.
What the study showed
"This is the most minimum intervention possible and the results were better than we thought," said lead researcher Heleen Riper, of the Trimbos Institute in Utrecht, the Netherlands. It has long been unclear how to best reach problem drinkers - those who are not alcohol-dependent but have risky drinking habits, such as drinking frequently or bingeing.
Even in the absence of serious addiction, these drinkers are at risk of hurting themselves or others, or having problems at work or school, Riper said. The social and economic costs of problem drinking, she added, are "enormous."
Whereas many problem drinkers would resist face-to-face counseling, they may be more open to anonymous help over the Internet, Riper pointed out. That means that relatively low-cost, efficient interventions could help combat a highly costly health and social problem, she said.
According to the researcher, a wide range of institutions could potentially offer personalised-feedback interventions - including large employers, universities, health insurance companies and government health agencies. – (Reuters Health, February 2009)
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