A recent study suggests that telephone counseling can be an effective tool in getting heavy drinkers to try quitting. A few phone conversations with a counselor might help patients who abuse or who are dependent on alcohol to cut back on their drinking, at least for a while.
It can be an effective primary care intervention for men who are not seeking treatment for their alcohol dependence or abuse.
The research was led by Richard Brown, M.D who said that "the study could empower time-strapped doctors to persuade reluctant alcoholism patients to seek treatment. The study shows that we shouldn't just give up on those alcohol-dependent patients who cannot or choose not to get treatment. If we can identify these folks in primary care waiting rooms and provide telephone counseling, we can start to help many of these patients" said Brown, of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.
Nearly 900 men and women with alcohol abuse or dependence were part of the study but none had been seeking treatment for alcohol abuse. The 445 people in the experimental group received up to six protocol-based phone interventions from counselors trained in a technique called motivational interviewing. The 452 members of the control group received a short pamphlet on healthy lifestyles.
The counselors helped them identify their goals and examine how their alcohol use affected the achievement of those goals. Counselors gave feedback on the drawbacks and consequences of alcohol use.
Researchers found that after just six telephone sessions with a counselor, men and women with alcohol problems were able to reduce their drinking. The men had a statistically significant reduction in total alcohol consumption (17 per cent) and in the number of "risky" drinking days (31 per cent).
Women also reduced their drinking, but the changes were not statistically different from the reductions seen in the women in the comparison group. It could be that screening for the problem itself could have led the women to cut back.
Petros Levounis, M.D., director of the Addiction Institute of New York at St. Luke's and Roosevelt Hospitals agreed with the study conclusions. This is exactly the direction that we should be working toward. We can actually help our patients through the phone and provide support and counseling with different methods, not just with the more traditional one-to-one psychotherapy. Levounis, who was not involved with the study, said the prevalence of alcohol disorders makes screening and brief intervention in primary care settings necessary.