The aim of this paper is to evaluate the effectiveness of brief interventions (BI) with adolescents (mean age < 20) in reducing alcohol, tobacco or other drug (ATOD) use by means of a systematic review of BI for adolescent substance use in the English language literature up to 2002.
We identified 11 studies involving 3734 adolescents. Follow-up ranged from 6 weeks to 24 months. Motivational interviewing was the predominant approach, underpinning eight studies: the remaining three provided personalized health information. Seven papers reported outcomes for alcohol interventions and four involved other substances (including one with separate alcohol outcomes).
The overall effect size was d = 0.126 with borderline homogeneity ( Q = 14.9, df = 9, p = 0.09). The effect size from the eight alcohol interventions ( n = 1075) was classified as significant but "small" ( d = 0.275). The remaining non-alcohol studies were considered separately as interventions involving tobacco or multiple substance use. The two interventions with tobacco involved a substantial sample ( n = 2626) but had a very small effect ( d = 0.037), while the two interventions addressing multiple substances involved few participants ( n = 110) but had a medium - large effect ( d = 0.78).
Across a diverse range of settings (dental clinic, schools, universities, substance treatment centres) and, therefore, probably diverse clients, BI conferred benefits to adolescent substance users. BI had a small effect on alcohol consumption and related measures.
The data for tobacco interventions suggested a very small reduction, particularly with general community interventions. The effect of BI with multiple substances appears substantial but the small sample cautions against expansive generalization.
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