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Practice Guidelines for the Treatment of Alcohol Problems

In 2003, an industry workgroup agreed on the following practice standards for identifying and treating alcohol problems. Scores of health plan companies, including CIGNA, United Behavorial Health and Magellan have adopted these or similar guidelines as a key step toward saving lives and saving costs.


A standardized screening tool should be used to identify individuals at high risk of alcohol problems.


Based on screening results, some individuals should undergo further assessment for possible diagnosis of an alcohol use disorder.
To learn more about screening, see the Ensuring Solutions resource Alcohol Screening: A Quick First Step to Reduce Problem Drinking.


People identified by the assessment as at risk should receive brief intervention – a series of short counseling sessions – or a referral to a behavioral health specialist. (Alternatively, the primary care provider could consult with a specialist, guided by the standards.) For more on brief intervention, see Brief Intervention: Cost Effective Help for Problem Drinkers.


Plans should provide consumer education resources. They should facilitate collaborative discussion by health practitioners of the importance of treatment as well as of treatment options, including the use of medication. Plans should encourage patient-centered treatment and promote family participation.


Plans should follow clinically-proven guidelines to motivate and treat, employing appropriate counseling, anti-craving medications, brief intervention, self-help, relapse prevention techniques and other methods.

Plans should implement treatment interventions appropriate for the severity of the alcohol use disorder.

People hospitalized or medically stabilized through inpatient, emergency room or outpatient detoxification should receive a follow-up visit within 72 hours of discharge.

Every patient should have a recovery plan that includes follow-up, relapse prevention and education.

For more information on treatment standards, see two primers by Ensuring Solutions: