WHO launches training manual on alcohol brief interventions in primary care

In an effort to assist Member States in introducing or expanding alcohol screening and brief intervention (SBI) programmes, WHO/Europe is launching a new training manual entitled “WHO training on alcohol brief interventions in primary care”. The manual is aimed at supporting the development and implementation of comprehensive training in SBIs for primary health care professionals. SBIs involve assessing a patient’s level of alcohol consumption through, for example, the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT), followed by provision of a brief intervention to motivate behaviour change.

The WHO/Europe training resources form part of the Monitoring of national policies related to alcohol consumption and harm reduction (MOPAC) project, funded by the European Union.

The SBI model outlined in the training materials is based on international expert consensus, which was established during a series of discussions at the International Network for Brief Interventions on Alcohol and Other Drugs (INEBRIA). The model of SBIs described in the manual has also been refined based on several years of experience and testing in workshops organized in Member States of the WHO European Region and through substantial input and review from an international expert group convened by WHO/Europe.

The European Region has the highest level of alcohol consumption and the highest prevalence of heavy episodic drinking (16.5% of the total population aged 15 years or older), a pattern of drinking which is particularly harmful to health. Many people may be unaware that their drinking behaviours are putting them at a higher risk for injury or disease, or may be unsure of how to change their behaviours. Primary care professionals can play a significant role in identifying people who are drinking at harmful levels and provide alcohol consumption advice. It has been estimated that only 1 in 20 of those with hazardous or harmful alcohol use are actually identified and offered brief advice by a primary care provider.

Strengthening primary prevention as part of comprehensive alcohol policy

While WHO and the wider United Nations system promote the three “best buys” of tax increases, restricted availability of alcoholic products and a ban on alcohol advertising, proactive approaches in primary health care are an essential component of a comprehensive national alcohol policy. Dr João Breda, Head of the WHO European Office for Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases, said, “ensuring that health professionals are trained in addressing alcohol consumption with their patients is an important way to improve the health of individuals as well as to decrease the prevalence of disease and premature death in the population”.

Both the European action plan to reduce the harmful use of alcohol 2012–2020 and the Global strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol highlight the importance of the health services’ response and in particular of strengthening SBI initiatives. A comprehensive primary prevention approach is also key to achieving a 10% reduction in the harmful use of alcohol by 2020, as set out in the Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of NCDs 2013–2020. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) acknowledge the significant impact of harmful alcohol consumption on ill health, as SDG Target 3.5 sets out to “strengthen prevention and treatment of substance abuse, including narcotic drug abuse and harmful use of alcohol”.

This publication was produced with financial assistance from the European Union.