Action with problem drinkers can cut risk of injury

Drinking too much alcohol can be dangerous, and injuries (both intentional and unintentional) are one of the most important ways in which excess alcohol use can result in harm. Are there ways of working with people known to be "problem drinkers" that can reduce the number of these injuries? The reviewers found 17 studies of programs that reported whether working with problem drinkers reduced injuries. Several different approaches were evaluated, the most common being brief counseling by health workers. The evidence from these studies suggests that action with problem drinkers is effective in reducing both injuries and events that lead to injury (such as falls, motor vehicle crashes, and suicide attempts). However, more research is needed to calculate the level of effectiveness accurately and to determine which type of program works best.

Authors' conclusions: 

Interventions for problem drinking appear to reduce injuries and their antecedents (e.g. falls, motor vehicle crashes, suicide attempts). Because injuries account for much of the morbidity and mortality from problem drinking, larger studies are warranted to evaluate the effect of treating problem drinking on injuries.

Read the full abstract...

Alcohol consumption has been linked with injuries through motor vehicle crashes, falls, drowning, fires and burns, and violence. In the US, half of the estimated 100,000 deaths attributed to alcohol each year are due to intentional and unintentional injuries. The identification of effective interventions for the reduction of unintentional and intentional injuries due to problem drinking is, therefore, an important public health goal.


To assess the effect of interventions for problem drinking on subsequent injury risk.

Search strategy: 

We searched 12 twelve computerized databases: MEDLINE (1966 to 2002), EMBASE (1982 to 2002), CENTRAL (The Cochrane Library 2002, Issue 2), PsycINFO (1967 to 2002), CINAHL (1982 to10/96), ERIC (1966 to12/96), Dissertation Abstracts International (1861 to11/96), IBSS (1961 to 2002), ISTP (1982 to 2002) and three specialized transportation databases (Transport 1988 to 2002/03). Bibliographies of relevant trials were searched and authors were contacted. Government agencies were also contacted for further information and grey literature. Most of the electronic and bibliographic database searches were last run in May 2002.

Selection criteria: 

Randomized controlled trials of interventions among participants with problem drinking, which are intended to reduce alcohol consumption or to prevent injuries or their antecedents, and which measured injury-related outcomes.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two authors extracted data on participants, interventions, follow-up, allocation concealment, and outcomes, and independently rated allocation concealment quality.

Main results: 

Of 23 eligible trials identified, 22 had been completed and 17 provided results for relevant outcomes. Completed trials comparing interventions for problem drinking to no intervention reported reduced motor-vehicle crashes and related injuries, falls, suicide attempts, domestic violence, assaults and child abuse, alcohol-related injuries and injury emergency visits, hospitalizations and deaths. Reductions ranged from 27% to 65%. Because few trials were sufficiently large to assess effects on injuries, individual effect estimates were generally imprecise. We did not combine the results quantitatively because the interventions, patient populations, and outcomes were so diverse. The most commonly evaluated intervention was brief counseling in the clinical setting. This was studied in seven trials, in which injury-related deaths were reduced: relative risk (RR) 0.65; 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.21 to 2.00. However, this reduction may have been due to chance. The majority of trials of brief counseling also showed beneficial effects on diverse non-fatal injury outcomes.