What is SBIRT?

SBIRT (Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment) is an evidence-based, best practice approach designed to give health care providers knowledge and skills to discuss health behavior changes with their patients. SBIRT enables healthcare professionals to systematically screen and assist people who may not be seeking help for a substance use problem, but whose drinking or drug use may cause or complicate their ability to successfully handle health, work, or family issues. It provides opportunities for early intervention with risky or hazardous alcohol and or substance use behaviors before more severe consequences or harm may occur.

Based on the SAMHSA model, SBIRT is unique in its universal screening of all patients regardless of an identified disorder, allowing health care professionals to address the spectrum of such behavioral health problems even when the patient is not actively seeking an intervention or treatment for his or her problems.

The primary goal of of SBIRT is not to identify alcohol- or other drug-dependent individuals. SBIRT is intended to meet the public health goal of reducing the harms and societal costs associated with risky use.

Components of SBIRT

  • Screening – determines the extent and severity of the alcohol/substance abuse. Screening is universal and can occur in any healthcare setting.
  • Brief Intervention – focuses on increasing insight and awareness and building motivation through structured conversation to address a health related behavior
  • Referral to Treatment – Directly links patient with appropriate requested services when needed

Providing SBIRT in a healthcare setting can:

  • Decrease the number of alcohol related emergency department visits and repeat hospitalizations
  • Reduce physical, emotional, legal, financial, family, and professional consequences of substance use
  • Improve service coordination for persons with substance use disorders
  • Decrease the number of alcohol related injuries and deaths

Who can practice SBIRT?

  • Physicians
  • Physician Assistants
  • Nurse Practitioners
  • Clinical Nurse Specialists
  • Clinical Psychologists
  • Clinical Social Workers
  • and more…

Does it Work?

SBIRT is based on public health principles and procedures, and is designed to reduce the burden of injury, disease and disability associated with the misuse of psychoactive substances, particularly alcohol, illicit drugs, tobacco products, and prescription medications with high abuse potential. Research has shown that SBIRT’s early intervention can reduce the likelihood that an individual will become  dependent on alcohol or other drugs. Early recognition and intervention is clinically effective and cost effective. 

There is substantial research on the effectiveness of SBIRT in reducing risky alcohol consumption. However, the evidence for the effectiveness of SBIRT in reducing risky drug use, although promising, is still accumulating (Babor et al., 2007, SAMHSA SBIRT Whitepaper Report, 2011). The table below provides a snapshot of the effectiveness of SBIRT with a variety of behavioral health conditions.