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Editor's e-Note
In an effort to create more opportunity to talk about the risks of substance use, professionals across many fields have been researching, educating, and implementing screening, brief intervention, and referral to treatment (SBIRT).

“SBIRT is a population-based public health approach for identifying people with at-risk drinking or other substance use,” says Paul Sacco, PhD, LCSW, an associate professor at the University of Maryland School of Social Work. “It’s basically a form of outreach and identification.”

SBIRT has been around since 2003, but it has been with greater research and acceptance that it has been more widely used in more settings such as hospitals and emergency departments.

Schools of social work around the country are also working to include SBIRT training in MSW curriculum. We can’t reduce risk if we don’t ask the questions, and SBIRT is a method of asking the right questions at the right time. Hopefully its use will continue to spread.

We welcome your comments at Visit our website at, like our Facebook page, and follow us on Twitter.

— Marianne Mallon, editor
e-News Exclusive
SBIRT: Identifying Risk
By Sue Coyle, MSW

It is likely that the majority of people in today’s society will have at least one glass of alcohol in their lifetime. Many, despite the increasingly negative public opinion, will smoke a cigarette. And with or without legalization, many will try marijuana. Then, there are the numerous other substances available legally and illegally to willing users. Many will use one or all of these. Some will become addicted. Others will not, but that doesn’t mean their behaviors don’t have consequences and have risks.

“It’s not necessarily a diagnosable disorder,” says Holly Hagle, PhD, director of the National SBIRT (screening, brief intervention, and referral to treatment) Addiction Technology Transfer Center Network at the Institute for Research, Education & in Addictions. “It’s people using low-risk substances in a high-risk manner—drinking too much on occasion and suffering consequences like a drunk driving accident. People are more vulnerable to domestic violence or any act of violence [when alcohol is involved]. They might be mixing medications and alcohol. We don’t talk enough about the risks.”

However, in an effort to create more opportunity to talk about those risks, professionals across the country and across many fields have been researching, explaining, and implementing SBIRT.

What Is SBIRT?

To put it generally, “SBIRT is a population-based public health approach for identifying people with at-risk drinking or other substance use,” explains Paul Sacco, PhD, LCSW, an associate professor at the University of Maryland School of Social Work. “It’s basically a form of outreach and identification.”

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