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Early Intervention

The Institute of Medicine recommends a “stepped-care” approach to AOD intervention, in which practitioners provide minimal intervention efforts initially and increase the intensity of treatment if those first efforts are unsuccessful. Effective early interventions generally involve an initial screening and combine several evidence-based strategies to target individual AOD use. The National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse’s 2002 report, “A Call to Action: Changing the Culture of Drinking at U.S. Colleges,” outlines recommended strategies for reducing AOD use in at-risk or dependent college students.

Brief Interventions. An early intervention is often brief and is designed to assess a student’s AOD-related behaviors and attitudes and provide initial feedback to the student about his or her AOD use and its consequences. In the course of a brief intervention, the practitioner may determine that a more in-depth intervention is required.

Brief interventions can be used as universal, selective, or indicated prevention measures. Universal prevention targets the general public or a whole population (e.g. the entire campus) and is not based on individual risk. Selective prevention is directed toward an individual or subgroup of that population determined to be at high risk of AOD problems (e.g. freshmen, athletes, or sorority and fraternity members). Indicated prevention efforts focus on individuals in high-risk environments who are identified as having signs or symptoms of an AOD problem.

Brief interventions are diverse in terms of length, mode of delivery, and level of practitioner training required. For instance, a brief intervention can last anywhere from three minutes to over an hour and can be delivered in a variety of settings. In addition to clinical and counseling center staff, many brief interventions can be delivered by primary health care workers, residence life staff, campus administrators, and other faculty members.

A significant number of students change their behavior and suffer fewer negative consequences as a result of early interventions. Though these interventions are often not sufficient for students with serious AOD abuse or dependence, research indicates that they do increase the likelihood of those students accepting additional counseling or other referred services.

Examples of Early and Brief Interventions

Successful early and brief interventions integrate multiple therapeutic components and can be delivered in-person or online.


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