Introduction to Brief Interventions


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What Are Brief Interventions?
Brief intervention: Brief counseling and patient education that can be conducted in a few minutes during almost any clinic visit. Brief interventions include one or more of the following:
  • Further assessment of the problem
  • Making a recommendation for more healthy behavior
  • Suggesting a treatment approach

Example: Motivate the patient who admits having a substance use problem, but who is not seeking treatment. If successful, recommend the appropriate treatment.

All patients that screen positively for a substance use problem should receive a brief intervention - even patients requiring referral. Healthcare providers and/or other staff members can be involved.

Readiness Ruler

Indiana SBIRT has an SBIRT Readiness Ruler (found in the resources) that can help clinicians performing brief interventions. It provides a quick guide to the questions that can help guide a determination of where the patient falls within the range of thinking about change.

  • What change(s) are you considering?
  • How important is it that you make this change?
  • How confident are you that you are able to make this change?
  • How ready are you to make this change?

Brief Interventions Are Effective!

Even a brief intervention of 3 to 8 minutes can make a difference. Brief interventions are effective in decreasing:

  • Alcohol consumption (Kaner et al., 2009)
  • Binge drinking (Rubio et al., 2010)
  • Tobacco use (Fiore et al., 2008)
  • Illicit drug use (Madras et al. 2009)

Practice Tip

Repeating the brief intervention stage at each appointment can be very effective in leading patients to make changes.

View ReferencesHide References
Fiore MC, Jaen CR, Baker TB, et al. Treating Tobacco Use and Dependence: 2008 Update. Clinical Practice Guideline. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Public Health Service. May 2008. Available at: Accessed on: 2013-09-26.
Kaner EF, Dickinson HO, Beyer FR, et al. Effectiveness of brief alcohol interventions in primary care populations. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.. 2009; 4: . Available at: Accessed on: 2015-06-16.
Madras BK, Compton WM, Avula D, et al. Screening, brief interventions, referral to treatment (SBIRT) for illicit drug and alcohol use at multiple healthcare sites. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2009; 99: 280-295. Available at: Accessed on: 2011-03-24.
Rubio G, Jiménez-Arriero MA, Martínez I, Ponce G, Palomo T. Efficacy of physician-delivered brief counseling intervention for binge drinkers. Department of Psychiatry, Complutense University of Madrid, Hospital 12 de Octubre, Madrid, Spain, Am J Med. 2010; 123(1): 72-8. Available at: Accessed on: 2013-10-24.