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Branching Paths: Brief Alcohol Screening and Intervention for College Students (BASICS)

Brief Alcohol Screening and Intervention for College Students (BASICS) is an evidence-based program whose main scope revolves around harm-reduction interventions for college students who misuse alcohol. The program has had positive results and has been mainly used to assist students in minimizing misuse of alcohol and the negative impacts associated with drinking. As students transition into college life, they tend to adopt excessive drinking patterns because they view it as an acceptable culture while maintaining a belief about the effects of binge drinking and alcohol-misuse norms. Since the program is designed to assist in helping young adults make better choices, the style of the program consists of two interviews, each lasting an hour accompanied by a brief online assessment in between. The first interview collects significant information about consumption patterns of alcohol and students’ personal beliefs on the usage of alcohol. Instructions are provided in between the sessions self-monitor one’s drinking. The second session which takes place two week apart, utilizes data obtained from online assessment to develop a personalized, and standard feedback that revisits the cons and risk factors, clarifies discerned risks and advantages of drinking, and give choices aimed at reducing alcohol abuse and its adverse effects (Dimeff, 1999). The program educates students on inaccurate alcohol beliefs, social norms and misconceptions about its effects. If necessary, alcohol screening is done, and referral for treatment is provided where appropriate. So far, studies in America have shown that students who went through the BASICS program reduced alcohol drinking habits among the general college population, fraternity staff with drinking problems who used BASICS, and those whom the college disciplinary bodies have mandatorily put under the program. The program targets students who are 18-24 in college, who are heavy drinkers and are at risk of alcoholism/ other alcohol-related effects, including violence, poor performance in school, accidents and sexual assaults (23).

In the 21st century, behavioural health problems, including violence, substance use, mental health problems and irresponsible sexual behaviours, are leading causes of death for people aged 15-24 in the United States. An effective preventive program such as BASICS considers the nature of the problem and when the users are likely to start alcohol use. College drinking impacts millions of students yearly. Transition to college poses a risk as most college students are engulfed in peer pressure and false beliefs, which lures them to experiment with alcohol. Statistics say 80% of college students drink alcohol to some extent, and 50% of this number engage in binge drinking. Binge drinking subscribes to heavy consumption of alcohol in a short period (five or more drinks in a row for men, and four drinks in a row for women in two hours). Heavy drinking is a risk factor that is likely to develop alcohol use disorder (AUD), with serious emotional and physical harm (Office of the Surgeon General US., 2016). The consequences of alcohol drinking are far-reaching and likely affect other individuals who do not have a history of using around the campus community. Such effects entail disruption in study/ sleep, unwarranted sexual advances and assault by alcoholics.

The BASICS program is based on cognitive-behavioural skills workshops and motivational enhancement methods. It is part of a more extensive core curriculum identified as the Alcohol Skills Training program (ASTP). ASTP inception followed the need to develop a response to limitations of other substance prevention strategies in the mid-1980s. The program’s main aim was to change students’ behaviour related to excessive consumption of alcohol and minimization of alcohol-related consequences. The foundational program attributes include; (I) application of cognitive-behavioural strategies for self-management, (II) use of therapeutic and motivational enhancement methods, and (III) application of harm-reduction principles. ASTP primary goal emphasizes cognitive-behavioural strategies, which includes setting limits for drinking, monitoring a person’s drinking, alcohol consumption refusal rehearsals, and practice of behaviour shift to new healthy and beneficial role paly. ASTP consists of three separate prevention modalities: student correspondence course manual, multi-sessional Alcohol skills Training Course, and BASICS (Dimeff, 1999) (pp. 22).

BASIC is the most effective out of the three in terms of cost and efficiency. Many controlled studies have concluded that BASICS is more efficient than traditional prevention methods in reducing excessive alcohol consumption and alcohol-related damages among college students. Some of the moderating factors include age, gender, and perceived alcohol peer norms. Women recorded a more significant reduction in problematic drinking as compared to men. BASICS treatment response directly relate to age because students show increased alcohol consumption behaviour during that year they attained the legal drinking age. Baer et al. carried out research indicating that brief intervention for college students at risk of drinking achieves log-term benefits relative to maturational trends (Peterson et al., 2006). Perceived alcohol social norms among peers catalyzed the effects of the intervention. This played an important role because peer-delivered feedback intervention is a significant factor of the prevention strategy and is applied mainly with fraternity members. Trained peer counsellors are as effective as professionals in convincing changes to drinking habits among college students. I think BASIC programs should be encouraged mostly in most of our colleges to alleviate the alcohol drinking problem because of its unique influence on the mechanism of change. The program identifies and isolates the mechanisms of change that instigate harm reduction and risks associated with heavy drinking among college students. This, in turn, allows for succinct, target-oriented and more effective development of intervention strategies (Fachini et al., 2012).

Misuse of alcohol and substance abuse has a significant impact on public health in the United States. The consequences are a burden both to the economy and the social periphery. In 2010 government spent an estimate of $ 249 billion due to alcohol misuse and related disorders, and other illicit drugs and associated consequences cost $193 billion. That includes direct and indirect costs, including social problems such as crime, decreased productivity and health problems including heart diseases, cancer and mental illnesses. Given these impacts, drug prevention and treatment are essential in preventing substance abuse from the onset, and identification of those already affected and early intervention be devised. Evidence-based preventive intervention programs have been a success because they are carried out before the need for treatment and have been effective in delaying early usage and also stopping progression from use before it becomes a problem or substance use disorder. Substance abuse counselling and medication are the major treatment techniques applied as therapeutic responses for drug addicts. Group and individual counselling are the two most effective ways to assist people under addiction problems or alcoholism to cease use and rehabilitate. I have gone through some group sessions as a peer educator myself; it is a very helpful strategy to prevent relapse and how to handle sporadic triggers. Behavioural therapies usually vary in focus when it involves drug prevention and treatment. They usually involve motivation to change, incentives for refusal to use, workshop training skills to resist the urge to use drugs, replacing drug-using activities with recreational/constructive ones, and addressing interpersonal relations. I find group therapy and peer support programs very effective in maintaining abstinence from alcohol misuse and substance abuse (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2000). The medication part is also essential in treating already affected patients, and most are combined with behavioural therapies to realize the overall effect. Treatment programs should be personalized and continually assessed and modified to meet an individual’s changing needs. Patients who know that their behaviour towards drug use is being monitored have higher chances of surviving relapses. Monitoring drug patients also would provide an early indication of the effectiveness of treatment and signal possible needs to adjust to an individual’s treatment strategies.


Abuse, S., US, M. H. S. A., & Office of the Surgeon General US. (2016). Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health [Internet].

Dimeff, L. A. (Ed.). (1999). Brief alcohol screening and intervention for college students (BASICS): A harm reduction approach. Guilford Press, pp. 19-25.

Fachini, A., Aliane, P. P., Martinez, E. Z., & Furtado, E. F. (2012). Efficacy of brief alcohol screening intervention for college students (BASICS): a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Substance abuse treatment, prevention, and policy7(1), 1-10.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2000). Principles of drug addiction treatment: A research-based guide. National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health.

Peterson, P. L., Baer, J. S., Wells, E. A., Ginzler, J. A., & Garrett, S. B. (2006). Short-term effects of a brief motivational intervention to reduce alcohol and drug risk among homeless adolescents. Psychology of addictive behaviors20(3), 254.


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