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Brief Encounters Can Provide Motivation To Reduce or Stop Drug Abuse

For Release January 5, 2005

New research supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), National Institutes of Health, shows that meeting with an addiction peer counselor just once at the time of a routine doctor visit with a followup booster phone call can motivate abusers of cocaine and heroin to reduce their drug use.

The study, by husband and wife research team Dr. Judith Bernstein and Dr. Edward Bernstein and their colleagues at Boston University Schools of Medicine and Public Health, is published in the January 2005 issue of Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

"Brief interventions have proven effective in initiating positive behavior changes in people who are dependent on alcohol," notes NIDA Director Dr. Nora D. Volkow. "Preliminary assessments of this process in drug abusers have been encouraging enough to investigate it more thoroughly as a therapeutic tool to enhance treatment."

The motivational interview used in this study was designed to establish rapport with the participant and covered such areas as asking permission to discuss drugs, exploring the pros and cons of drug use, eliciting the gap between real and desired quality of life, and assessing readiness to change. This 20-minute intervention also included development of an action plan.

The study was conducted among 1,175 men and women who had tested positive for cocaine or heroin abuse. Participants were randomly assigned to an intervention group or a control group. Intervention consisted of a motivational interview with a substance abuse outreach worker who also was a recovering addict, referrals to active drug abuse treatment programs, a written list of treatment options, and a followup telephone call 10 days later. Members of the control group received only the written list.

Six months following enrollment, the researchers found that among those who abused cocaine, 22.3 percent of the intervention group were abstinent from the drug, compared with 16.9 percent of the control group; among those who abused heroin, 40.2 percent of the intervention group were abstinent from the drug, compared with 30.6 percent of the control group. As for people who used both drugs, 17.4 percent of the intervention group were drug free, compared with 12.8 percent of the control group.

"This study not only shows that this type of intervention provides true benefits in reducing cocaine and heroin abuse, it also suggests that peer interventionists can play an important role in busy clinical environments," says Dr. Volkow.


The National Institute on Drug Abuse is a component of the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIDA supports most of the world's research on the health aspects of drug abuse and addiction. The Institute carries out a large variety of programs to ensure the rapid dissemination of research information and its implementation in policy and practice. Fact sheets on the health effects of drugs of abuse and further information on NIDA research can be found on the NIDA web site at http://www.drugabuse.gov.


For more information about any item in this Release:

  • NIDA Contacts:
    Blair Gately
    Michelle Person
    301-443-6245

    Contacto en Español:
    Sara Rosario
    301-594-6145


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