Background: Brief interventions (BIs) involve screening for alcohol misuse and providing feedback to patients
about their use, with the aim of reducing alcohol consumption and related consequences. BIs have been implemented
in various healthcare settings, including emergency departments (ED), where they have been found to contribute
mixed results in their ability to address alcohol misuse among adults. Mechanisms through which BIs work and
contextual factors impacting BI effectiveness are not clear. The purpose of this review was to understand how, for
whom, and under what circumstances BIs work for adults misusing alcohol and who have been admitted to an
ED. A realist review was chosen to answer these questions as realist reviews create context-mechanism-outcome
configurations, leading to the development of comprehensive and detailed theories; in this case explaining how
and for whom BIs work.
Methods: Databases including PsycINFO, Healthstar, CINAHL, Medline, and Nursing and Allied Health were
searched for articles published until December 2013. The search strategy focused on studies examining BIs that
targeted alcohol misuse among adults admitted into the ED. The search identified 145 relevant abstracts, of
which 36 were included in the review. The literature was synthesized qualitatively (immersion/crystallization).
Results: Four mechanisms were found within reviewed studies, including engagement in/retention of BI materials,
resolving ambivalence, increased awareness/insight into consequences of drinking, and increased self-efficacy/empowerment to use skills for change. The following contexts were found to impact mechanisms: emotional state, injury attributed to alcohol use, severity of alcohol use, and baseline stage of change.
Conclusions: This realist review provides advances in theories regarding which mechanisms to target during a BI and
which contexts create the most favorable conditions for these mechanisms to occur, ultimately leading to optimal BI
outcomes. These results can inform future clinical decision-making when delivering BIs in ED settings. Future research should conduct quantitative examination to confirm these findings.
Systematic review registration: PROSPERO CRD42013006549
Davey, C. J., Landy, M. S. H., Pecora, A., Quintero, D., & McShane, K. E. (2015). A realist review of brief interventions for alcohol misuse delivered in emergency departments. Systematic Reviews, 4(1), 45.