Brief Alcohol Screening and Intervention of College Students (BASICS)

Program Goals

Brief Alcohol Screening and Intervention of College Students (BASICS) is a harm-reduction intervention for college students. Students often conform to patterns of heavy drinking they see as acceptable, while holding false beliefs about alcohol’s effects or actual alcohol-use norms. BASICS is designed to help students make better decisions about using alcohol. The program’s style is empathic, rather than confrontational or judgmental. It aims to 1) reduce alcohol consumption and its adverse consequences, 2) promote healthier choices among young adults, and 3) provide important information and coping skills for reducing risk.

Target Population/Eligibility or Target Sites

BASICS is aimed at college students 18 to 24 years old who drink alcohol heavily and have experienced or are at risk for alcohol-related problems such as poor class attendance, missed assignments, accidents, sexual assault, and violence.

Program Theory

BASICS uses brief, limited interventions designed to prompt students to change their drinking patterns. Heavy drinking among students decreases as the population ages. The program is designed to prompt behavioral changes in the early years of college. The brief interventions aim to modify the participants’ responses to peers in alcohol-related situations.

Program Components

The program is conducted over the course of two 50-minute interviews. As a harm-reduction approach, BASICS aims to motivate students to reduce risky behaviors instead of targeting a specific drinking goal such as abstinence or reduced drinking. Students can be identified through routine screening or through referral from medical, housing, or disciplinary services. Before or after the first interview, the student receives a self-report questionnaire to complete. From the questionnaire and the first interview, information is gathered about the student’s alcohol consumption pattern, personal beliefs about alcohol, understanding of social alcohol norms, and family history. The second interview, which occurs about 2 weeks after the initial interview, provides the student with personalized feedback on his or her patterns of drinking, typical and peak blood alcohol concentration, comparison of drinking patterns with other college students of the same age and gender, and level of family history of alcohol problems. Moreover, the program challenges inaccurate alcohol norms and myths about alcohol’s effects, highlights alcohol-related negative consequences, suggests ways to reduce future risks associated with alcohol use, and provides a menu of options to assist in making changes. Screening and referral for stepped-care treatment is also offered as needed.

Intervention ID: 
18 to 24

Study 1

The Baer and colleagues (2001) study aimed to measure the long-term effects of Brief Alcohol Screening and Intervention of College Students (BASICS). Their study sampled students, all under 19 years old and due to attend the University of Washington in fall 1990 (n= 4,000). The students were all sent a questionnaire in the spring preceding their matriculation to identify their levels of drinking. Fifty-one percent provided complete questionnaires and showed a willingness to participate in the study. Among the students who completed the questionnaire, a high-risk sample was identified and randomized into a control (n= 113) and a treatment group (n= 145). Another normative comparison group (n= 113) was randomly selected from the entire pool of responders. Of the high-risk sample, 55 percent were female and 84 percent were white. The normative comparison sample was 54 percent female and 78 percent white. There were no significant baseline differences between the groups. Measures were taken at baseline, at 6 months posttest, and at follow-ups at 1-year intervals for up to 4 years.

The participants in the treatment group received a single-session intervention similar to motivational interviewing. They were given personal feedback on their alcohol consumption patterns for the 2 weeks preceding the intervention. They also received information about the risk and myths associated with alcohol consumption. And they received advice and tips to reduce risks associated with drinking. The following year, participants receiving the intervention were mailed personalized feedback that analyzed their drinking reported at baseline and at 6 months and 1 year postintervention. The participants identified as highest risk (n= 56) were contacted by phone to learn of concern over their drinking and were offered additional feedback.

The study measured three drinking measures, which were standardized to the normative comparative sample at baseline. These were drinking frequency, drinking quantity, and negative consequences related to drinking. The measures were analyzed using mean standardized factor scores and differences.

Study 2

Turrisi and colleagues (2009) studied incoming freshman at large universities in the Northeast and the Northwest, screening them during summer 2006. To be eligible the participants needed to be high school athletes transitioning to college. High school athletes transitioning to college have been previously identified as a group at high risk of alcohol use.

Participants were randomized to four conditions: a control group (n= 305), a treatment group that received BASICS (n= 228), and two other treatment groups—one that received a parent intervention (n= 279) and one that received both BASICS and the parent intervention (n= 278). The BASICS intervention consisted of 1-hour one-on-one sessions with a trained peer facilitator. Participants were directed toward the computerized feedback from their baseline assessment that examined consumption patterns and behaviors. They were given information on the myths and risks associated with alcohol as well as protective behavioral strategies. The baseline and follow-up (conducted about 10 months postintervention) procedures were administered in the form of an online self-report questionnaire.

The study used intent-to-treat analyses and mean difference tests (Cohen’s d) to assess the variations in alcohol use between the groups. Peak blood–alcohol content was calculated, as were the quantity of drinks, during the week and on weekends.


Study 1

Consequences of Alcohol Consumption

The Baer and colleagues (2001) study showed that the Brief Alcohol Screening and Intervention of College Students (BASICS) intervention significantly reduced the negative consequences related to drinking experienced by the treatment group, when compared with the control group.

Quantities Consumed

Additionally, the intervention significantly lowered the drinking quantities of the treatment group compared with the control group over the 4-year period. However, there were no significant differences in the frequency of drinking between the control and treatment groups.

Study 2

Alcohol Consumption

The Turrisi and colleagues (2009) study showed that the BASICS (only) intervention group reported significantly lower peak blood–alcohol content at the 10-month follow-up than the control group did. Similarly, the participants randomized to BASICS reported significantly fewer drinks per weekend than the control group. There were, however, no significant differences in the quantities of alcohol consumed during the week between the treatment and control groups.