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Building the first step: a review of low-intensity interventions for stepped care

John McKellar1*, Julia Austin2 and Rudolf Moos1

Author Affiliations

1 Center for Healthcare Evaluation, Health Services Research and Development Service, Department of Veterans Affairs Health Care System and Stanford University School of Medicine, Palo Alto, CA, USA

2 Department of Psychology & Robert Wood Johnson Center for Health Policy, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM, USA

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Addiction Science & Clinical Practice 2012, 7:26  doi:10.1186/1940-0640-7-26

Published: 11 December 2012


Within the last 30 years, a substantial number of interventions for alcohol use disorders (AUDs) have received empirical support. Nevertheless, fewer than 25% of individuals with alcohol-related problems access these interventions. If several intensive psychosocial treatments are relatively effective, but most individuals in need do not access them, it seems logical to place a priority on developing more engaging interventions. Accordingly, after briefly describing findings about barriers to help-seeking, we focus on identifying an array of innovative and effective low-intensity intervention strategies, including telephone, computer-based, and Internet-based interventions, that surmount these barriers and are suitable for use within a stepped-care model. We conclude that these interventions attract individuals who would otherwise not seek help, that they can benefit individuals who misuse alcohol and those with more severe AUDs, and that they can facilitate subsequent help-seeking when needed. We note that these types of low-intensity interventions are flexible and can be tailored to address many of the perceived barriers that hinder individuals with alcohol misuse or AUDs from obtaining timely help. We also describe key areas of further research, such as identifying the mechanisms that underlie stepped-care interventions and finding out how to structure these interventions to best initiate a program of stepped care.

Alcohol use disorders; Stepped care; Help seeking; Intervention