New research suggests that phone counseling with a professional may help those who have problems with alcohol and help them cut back on their drinking.
After just six telephone-based sessions, people who participated in the study were able to reduce their drinking in the short-term. Men’s total alcohol consumption was significantly reduced, as was their total number of at-risk drinking days.
The researchers studied 897 people who went to see their primary care physician or family doctor for a non-alcohol related issue.
The people in the study received up to six sessions of protocol-driven telephone counseling based on principles of motivational interviewing and stages of readiness to change. Each telephone call was followed by a letter from the therapist that summarized the conversation.
The comparison group only received a pamphlet on healthy lifestyles.
After three months, patients in the counseling group were drinking less, the study found.
Lead researcher Richard Brown, M.D., said that the study could empower time-strapped doctors to persuade reluctant alcoholism patients to seek treatment.
“The study shows that we shouldn’t just give up on those alcohol-dependent patients who cannot or choose not to get treatment. If we can identify these folks in primary care waiting rooms and provide telephone counseling … we can start to help many of these patients,” said Brown, of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.
The study appears in the August issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.
Many people who have a problem with alcohol never seek treatment for the problem. This study reinforces the important role primary care doctors and family physicians play in helping their patients recognize and get treatment for other concerns, like alcoholism.
This study suggests that when drinking problems are spotted, many patients — especially men — benefit from phone counseling.
“Getting patients to participate in the counseling sessions was actually much easier than we thought it would be,” Brown said. “Once they had established rapport with that counselor over the phone, many patients really looked forward to their sessions.”
This study should reassure doctors that it’s okay to ask about alcohol and substance abuse problems, and encourage their patients to seek assistance for them.