How to Make Alcohol Screening and Brief Intervention Routine

By Takia Richardson, LICSW, LCSW, NASW Senior Practice Associate, Behavioral Health, and Diana Ling, Outreach Program Coordinator, Health Behavior Research and Training Institute, Steve Hicks School of Social Work, University of Texas at Austin

Alcohol screening and brief intervention (SBI) is an evidence-based tool backed by more than 30 years of research. Yet most people have not talked to a health professional about their drinking. Among women, only 13 percent have talked to a professional about how much they drink – despite the fact that risky drinking among Social Worker In Conversation With Pregnant Motherwomen has grown rapidly.

April 9 is National Alcohol Screening Day – a call to make screening and brief intervention (SBI) part of your routine practice. Social workers are an integral part of healthcare and should take a leading role in primary prevention of risky drinking among women.

You can help women avoid drinking too much, including avoiding alcohol during pregnancy, in three steps:

Step One: Screening

  • Ask women about their drinking to identify those who drink at risky levels (more than three drinks in a day or more than seven drinks per week).
  • Use a validated screener (such as the AUDIT-C) within the context of a routine session.

Step Two: Intervention

  • Build rapport and communicate compassion before you go over screening results and provide a clinical recommendation to women who are drinking too much, including those who may be pregnant.
  • Provide options: ask if your client wants to stop drinking, cut down, or seek help with her drinking habits. If she wants to change, support her in setting a goal and making a plan, and let her know that there will be a follow-up discussion at the next visit.

Step Three: Referral

If a client can’t stop drinking on her own but wants to change, refer her for additional services:

  • Provide information on local programs or go to a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration treatment locator.
  • Consider referral to treatment or recommend Alcoholics Anonymous.
  • If your client refuses treatment, respect her decision, make a short-term follow-up appointment, and assure her she will be welcomed back into your office.

Social Worker Talking With ClientNASW and the NASW Foundation have partnered with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and leading medical organizations, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, through the Collaborative for Alcohol-Free Pregnancy, a public health initiative. Together, we are working to encourage health professionals to make evidence-based prevention strategies part of routine practice.

For more information, visit NASW’s Behavioral Health webpage for practice tools and professional development resources.  Additional clinical resources are available through our Collaborative partners:

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