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Intervention to reduce excessive alcohol consumption and improve comorbidity outcomes in hypertensive or depressed primary care patients: two parallel cluster randomized feasibility trials

Graeme B Wilson1*, Catherine Wray1, Ruth McGovern1, Dorothy Newbury-Birch1, Elaine McColl1, Ann Crosland2, Chris Speed1, Paul Cassidy3, Dave Tomson4, Shona Haining5, Denise Howel1 and Eileen FS Kaner1

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Health and Society, Newcastle University, Baddiley Clark Building, Richardson Road, Newcastle upon Tyne NE2 4AX, UK

2 Department of Pharmacy, Health and Well-being, Sunderland University, Chester Road, Sunderland SR1 3SD, UK

3 Teams Medical Practice, Watson Street, Gateshead NE8 2PQ, UK

4 Collingwood Health Group, Brookland Terrace, North Tyneside NE29 8EA, UK

5 NHS North of England Commissioning Support Unit, Goldcrest Way, Newcastle upon Tyne NE15 8NY, UK

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Trials 2014, 15:235  doi:10.1186/1745-6215-15-235

Published: 19 June 2014



Many primary care patients with raised blood pressure or depression drink potentially hazardous levels of alcohol. Brief interventions (BI) to reduce alcohol consumption may improve comorbid conditions and reduce the risk of future alcohol problems. However, research has not established their effectiveness in this patient population. This study aimed to establish the feasibility of definitive trials of BI to reduce excessive drinking in primary care patients with hypertension or mild to moderate depression.


Thirteen general practices in North East England were randomized to the intervention or control arm of one of two parallel pilot trials. Adult patients drinking excessively and diagnosed with hypertension or mild-to-moderate depression received the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) by postal survey. Consenting respondents scoring more than 7 on AUDIT (score range 0 to 40) received brief alcohol consumption advice plus an information leaflet (intervention) or an information leaflet alone (control) with follow-up at six months. Measurements included the numbers of patients eligible, recruited, and retained, and the AUDIT score and systolic/diastolic blood pressure of each patient or the nine-item Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9) score. Acceptability was assessed via practitioner feedback and patient willingness to be screened, recruited, and retained at follow-up.


In the hypertension trial, 1709 of 33,813 adult patients (5.1%) were eligible and were surveyed. Among the eligible patients, 468 (27.4%) returned questionnaires; 166 (9.6% of those surveyed) screened positively on AUDIT and 83 (4.8% of those surveyed) were recruited (50.0% of positive screens). Sixty-seven cases (80.7% of recruited patients) completed follow-up at six months. In the depression trial, 1,044 of 73,146 adult patients (1.4%) were eligible and surveyed. Among these eligible patients, 215 (20.6%) responded; 104 (10.0% of those surveyed) screened positively on AUDIT and 29 (2.8% of those surveyed) were recruited (27.9% of positive screens). Nineteen cases (65.5% of recruited patients) completed follow-up at six months.


Recruitment and retention rates were higher in the hypertension trial than in the depression trial. A full brief intervention trial appears feasible for primary care patients with hypertension who drink excessively. High AUDIT scores in the depression trial suggest the importance of alcohol intervention in this group. However, future work may require alternative screening and measurement procedures.

Trial registration

Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN89156543; registered 21 October 2013.

Alcohol; Screening; Brief intervention; Comorbid; Hypertension; Depression; Primary care; Trial; Preventive; Feasibility