Hospital admission may be good news for heavy drinkers

Sensible alcohol consumption is the focus of the Department of Health’s Change4Life campaign, launched this week, highlighting the dangers of drinking just a little over the lower alcohol risk guidelines. The accompanying TV ad highlights the risk associated with regularly drinking two large glasses of wine or two strong pints of beer a day, which triples the risk of developing mouth cancer and doubles the risk of developing high blood pressure.The campaign website offers hints on how people can reduce their alcohol consumption and an online calculator to allow users to check how much they are drinking.

Another way to encourage people to drink less alcohol is through brief interventions, also focused on changing behaviour. A Cochrane review has looked at the evidence for the effectiveness of such interventions offered to heavy alcohol users admitted to general hospital wards for any reason other than for alcohol treatment. The reviewers systematically searched relevant databases and clinical trials registers and also handsearched journals. They found 14 eligible controlled trials (randomised and non-randomised) involving 4041 people. They found that:

  • patients receiving brief interventions have a greater reduction in alcohol consumption compared with those in control groups (receiving no intervention) at six months, MD -69.43 (95% confidence interval (CI) -128.14 to -10.72) and nine months later, MD -182.88 (95% CI -360.00 to -5.76) but this is not maintained at 1 year.
  • there were significantly fewer deaths in the groups receiving brief interventions than in the control groups at 6 months, RR 0.42 (95% CI 0.19 to 0.94) and one year later, RR 0.60 (95% CI 0.40 to 0.91).
  • asking participants about their drinking patterns may also have a positive impact on alcohol consumption and drinking behaviour.

The reviewers conclude that there appear to be benefits to delivering brief interventions to heavy alcohol users admitted to general hospital wards, but note that these findings are based on mostly male participants and that further research is needed to determine what works best and for which types of patients.


McQueen J, Howe TE, Allan L, Mains D, Hardy V. Brief interventions for heavy alcohol users admitted to general hospital wards.  Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2011, Issue 8. Art. No.: CD005191. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD005191.pub3.

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Sarah Chapman

My name is Sarah Chapman. I have worked on systematic reviews and other types of research in many areas of health for the past 17 years, for the Cochrane Collaboration and for several UK higher education institutions including the University of Oxford and the Royal College of Nursing Institute. I also have a background in nursing and in the study of the History of Medicine.

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