What Are Brief Interventions?

This page is part of a larger training activity provided by Clinical Tools, Inc. Our Larasig training activities provide medical education training skills for health professional students.
Please refer to the Larasig homepage to sign-up and choose an activity!



Brief intervention typically consist of a single, short session of intervention during which a health care professional encourages the patient to consider why and how to quit or reduce drinking (CASAColumbia, 2012; BASAS, 2012). They are recommended to be used with people who are at risk for or who have alcohol use disorder. Those at a higher risk of developing alcohol use disorder may benefit more from intensive interventions and referral to a specialist (CDC, 2014).

Be Empathetic

A key aim of the brief intervention process is to engage the patient in an empathetic alliance that can be used to strengthen his or her commitment to change. Alliance building involves expressing care, concern, and respect for the patient (BSAS, 2012), which aids in fostering a trusting relationship with his or her provider. Research has demonstrated that use of a warm, empathetic style is significantly more predictive of positive change in drinking behavior than a coercive, authoritarian approach (BSAS, 2012).

Brief Treatment

Brief treatment is an additional component of the Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment, or SBIRT, method that is included for patients with less severe substance use disorders (Agerwala & McCance-Katz, 2012). It is intended to motivate patients to change immediate substance use behavior (Agerwala & McCance-Katz, 2012)

Brief treatment differs from brief interventions in that it typically lasts up to an hour and consists of 5-12 sessions, whereas brief interventions last five minutes to an hour and involve 1-5 sessions (SAMHSA, 2011). Patients referred to a brief treatment typically have greater risk factors than do those referred to a brief intervention (SAMHSA, 2011).

Practice Tip

Brief interventions should be performed on all patients, even if for just a few minutes, to explain treatment options and referral, if necessary.

View ReferencesHide References
Agerwala SM, McCance-Katz EF. Integrating screening, brief intervention, and referral to treatment (SBIRT) into clinical practice settings: A brief review. J Psychoactive Drugs. 2012; 44: 307-317. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3801194/ Accessed on: 2015-06-10.
BSAS. SBIRT: A Step-By-Step Guide. MASBIRT. 2012. Available at: http://www.masbirt.org/sites/www.masbirt.org/files/documents/toolkit.pdf Accessed on: 2015-03-19.
CASAColumbia. An SBIRT Implementation and Process Change Manual for Practitioners. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. 2012. Available at: http://www.casacolumbia.org/sites/default/files/files/An-SBIRT-implementation-and-process-change-manual-for-practitioners.pdf Accessed on: 2015-03-19.
CDC. Planning and Implementing Screening and Brief Intervention for Risky Alcohol Use A Step-by-Step Guide for Primary Care Practices . National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities . 2014. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/fasd/documents/alcoholsbiimplementationguide.pdf Accessed on: 2015-03-10.
SAMHSA. Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT). SAMHSA. 2014. Available at: http://www.samhsa.gov/sbirt Accessed on: 2015-03-20.