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Ultra-brief intervention for problem drinkers: research protocol

John A Cunningham1*, Clayton Neighbors2, Cameron Wild3 and Keith Humphreys4

Author Affiliations

1 Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, 33 Russell Street, Toronto, Ontario, M5S 2S1, Canada

2 Department of Psychiatry and Behavior Sciences, University of Washington, 1100 NE 45th St., Suite 300, Box 354944, Seattle, WA, 98195, USA

3 Centre for Health Promotion Studies, School of Public Health, University of Alberta, 7-30 University Terrace, Edmonton, Alberta, T6G 2H1, Canada

4 Veterans Affairs and Stanford University Medical Centers, 401 N. Quarry Road, Room C-305, Stanford, CA, 94305-5717, USA

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BMC Public Health 2008, 8:298  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-8-298

Published: 26 August 2008



Helping the large number of problem drinkers who will never seek treatment is a challenging issue. Public health initiatives employing educational materials or mass media campaigns have met with mixed success. However, clinical research has developed effective brief interventions to help problem drinkers. This project will employ an intervention that has been validated in clinical settings and then modified into an ultra-brief format suitable for use as a public health intervention. The major objective of this study is to conduct a randomized controlled trial to establish the effectiveness of an ultra-brief, personalized feedback intervention for problem drinkers.


Problem drinkers recruited on a baseline population telephone survey conducted in a major metropolitan city in Canada will be randomized to one of three conditions – a personalized feedback pamphlet condition, a control pamphlet condition, or a no intervention control condition. In the week after the baseline survey, households in the two pamphlet conditions will be sent their respective pamphlets. Changes in drinking will be assessed post intervention at three-month and six-month follow-ups. Drinking outcomes will be compared between experimental conditions using Structural Equation Modeling. The primary hypothesis is that problem drinkers from households who receive the personalized feedback pamphlet intervention will display significantly improved drinking outcomes at three and six-month follow-ups as compared to problem drinkers from households in the no intervention control condition. Secondary hypotheses will test the impact of the intervention on help seeking, and explore the mediating or moderating role of perceived drinking norms, perceived alcohol risks and the problem drinker's social reasons for drinking.


This trial will provide information on the effectiveness of a pamphlet-based personalized feedback intervention for problem drinkers in a community setting.

Trial registration registration #NCT00688584.