What is BASICS?
Brief Alcohol Screening and Intervention for College Students (BASICS) has been one of the leading programs administered at colleges and universities to students demonstrating problems with alcohol use, most notably those in violation of campus alcohol policies. The program, typically administered by a professional counselor trained in the technique, consists of two, one-on-one, fifty-minute sessions.
During the first session, a counselor will gather information from a student about the student’s personal alcohol consumption behaviors, family history, normative perceptions, and personal beliefs about alcohol. During the second session, in a non-confrontational tone, the counselor provides personalized feedback on student drinking and compares the student’s drinking to that of his or her peers. During this session, the counselor also provides information on alcohol-related problems, risk factors and blood alcohol concentration (Murphy et al., 2001). The counselor utilizes a number of approaches, such as motivational enhancement and harm reduction, to encourage the student to change his or her drinking-related behaviors.
Although BASICS is most commonly administered to student alcohol policy violators and to students who have received medical attention due to their alcohol consumption, students who self-refer to a counseling center for their substance-use may also receive BASICS. Institutions have also been known to mandate BASICS for certain high-risk groups, such as fraternity and sorority members or athletes. Some campuses have also screened all incoming first-year students with regard to their alcohol use, referring those deemed to be high-risk drinkers to take BASICS, providing them with personalized feedback and some strategies to reduce their risk early on in their college experience.
The research has shown that using the BASICS model for face-to-face interventions for high-risk drinkers may have both long- and short-term outcomes for drinking-related behaviors. Reductions have been found to be most pronounced for alcohol-related negative consequences, which researchers have attributed to the nature of the intervention to take a harm-reduction approach by targeting individual choices and risk-reduction (Baer et al., 2001). Such reductions have been found to persist for months or even years (Baer et al., 2001).
Providing social normative feedback in BASICS has also been demonstrated to be a key factor in motivating behavioral change among high-risk drinkers. One study found decreases in normative misperceptions of peer drinking to be associated with changes in student alcohol use (Martens et al., 2007).
When administered to students as a judicial sanction, BASICS has also been found to reduce the rates of repeat offenses. For example, in 2001, MIT found that judicially sanctioned students who received a Screening and Brief Intervention (SBI) tended to not commit further violations or experience any alcohol-related medical emergencies over the following four years (“Massachusetts Institute of Technology,” n.d.).
BASICS has also been found to have an impact when administered to students as a preventative measure, including among high-risk groups. For example, one study examined a BASICS adaptation for first-year fraternity members. Fraternity chapters that received a motivational enhancement intervention with both individual and house-wide feedback demonstrated significant reductions in alcohol use and typical peak blood alcohol concentrations relative to a control group (Larimer et al., 2001). Similar programs have been created for student athletic teams.
The format of administering BASICS has also been discussed in the literature. Although administering BASICS in-person is optimal, providing students with written-feedback alone has been demonstrated to have a comparable impact on consumption and alcohol-related problems (White et al., 2006). Similarly, students receiving a web-delivered BASICS have achieved comparable drinking outcomes to those receiving the in-person BASICS (“NASPA Excellence Awards,” 2008).
Issues and considerations
When administering BASICS, it is essential that campuses track student behavior change over time. Many campuses distribute follow-up surveys months, and even years, after a student has completed BASICS. In addition, a campus may explore other data-collection mechanisms, such as judicial reports (i.e. to track repeat offenses) or ER transports, in order to assess whether a student’s drinking-related behaviors have been modified after completing BASICS.
One of the greatest challenges of BASICS is the extent of staff time required to run and administer the program. Yet, several campuses have found ways to reduce these associated costs. One popular way to address the cost of BASICS is to charge sanctioned students with fees or fines for their offenses to offset the costs of BASICS administration. Many campuses charge between $30 and $100 per student to administer BASICS.
Another way to minimize costs is to utilize peer educators to facilitate BASICS. Employing peers to administer BASICs had been demonstrated to have a comparable impact on drinking outcomes (Larimer et al., 2001). However, if peers are utilized, it is crucial that they receive sufficient training and supervision.
Providing written personalized feedback alone or a web-delivered BASICS have shown significant promise as cost-effective adaptations to BASICS. Although such programs may not achieve the same reductions in consumption or alcohol-related problems as the fuller administration of the elements of BASICS, these adaptations have demonstrated reduced outcomes in the research literature.
Some institutions combine the two sessions of BASICS into a one-time intervention. At the University at Albany, State University of New York, a comprehensive Screening and Brief Intervention (SBI) strategy based on the BASICS model is employed to target high-risk populations. Instead of employing the traditional two counseling sessions, the university’s “Project First STEPS” specifically targets first-year students with an online AUDIT screening and then provides a one-time follow-up session to those who meet the screening criteria for being “at risk.” Utilizing an online screening followed by a one-time session may save on costs associated with staff time.
Conducting BASICS in a group setting, such as with an athletic team or in a fraternity or sorority chapter, may also be a promising alternative to the one-on-one session and an efficient way to reach a large number of individuals at once. Some campuses offer Greek chapters not only individualized feedback, but also house-wide feedback (Larimer et al., 2001). Providing group-specific normative feedback in this setting may also play a role in reducing misperceptions of peer drinking.
The University of Missouri-Columbia has also adapted BASICS for a group setting. Student alcohol policy violators initially participate in a group session with 15-20 students where they discuss their alcohol use and negative consequences. In the second session, conducted in the traditional individual counselor-led format, students are presented with this information and are told how their alcohol use relates to their peers, with motivational enhancement and some strategies to reduce their risk. It is important to point out that although these adaptations of BASICS for a group setting may save on costs associated with staff time, the research has demonstrated that the in-person and counselor-led sessions will attain optimal behavioral outcomes.
Baer, J., Kivlahan, D., Blume, A., McKnight, P., & Marlatt, G. (2001, August). Brief Intervention for Heavy-Drinking College Students: 4-Year Follow-Up and Natural History. American Journal of Public Health, 91(8), 1310-1316.
Larimer, M. E., Turner, A. P., Anderson, B. K., Fader, J. S., Kilmer, J. R., Palmer, R. S., et al. (2001). Evaluating a brief alcohol intervention with fraternities. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 62, 370−380.
Martens, M.P., Cimini, D., Barr, A. R., Rivero, E. M., Vellis, P.A., Desemone, G.A., & Horner, K.J. (2007). Implementing a screening and brief intervention for high-risk drinking in university-based health and mental health care settings: Reduction in alcohol use and correlates of success. Addictive Behaviors, 32, 2563-2572.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology: BASICS (Brief Alcohol Screening and Intervention for College Students). The Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse and Violence Prevention.
Murphy, J.G., Duchnick, J.J., Vuchinich,R.E., Davison, J.W., Karg, R.S., Olson, A.M., Smith, A.F., & Coffey, T.T. (2001). Relative Efficacy of a Brief Motivational Intervention for College Student Drinkers. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors 15(4), 373–79.
The Steps Alcohol Screening and Brief Intervention Program: University of Albany, State University of New York. NASPA Excellence Awards 2008 Nomination Materials.
White, H.R., Morgan, T. J., Pugh, L.A., Celinska, K., Labouvie, E. W., & Pandina, R. J. (2006). Evaluating two brief substance-use interventions for mandated college students. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 67, 309-317.