What is this S-B-I-R-T? Why do you keep using it like I’m supposed to know what it means?

We hate to admit it, but it’s our tendency to throw around a lot of…jargon. Okay, it’s true. SAMHSA this, NAADAC that. CBT, MAT, ATTC. ROSC, which of course we pronounce rosk. NIAAA, which those of us in the know call N-I Triple A. Obviously.

Of course, there are people concerned with substance use and addiction that aren’t breathing this lingo every day. Rather, they’re curiously googling and Youtube-ing.  Talking to friends, family, trusted healthcare providers.  Maybe they’re even getting information from their clients or students.

IRETA works to offer accurate information about substance use and substance use disorders and we know that the information hardly matters if it doesn’t make sense to you.  When we say, “SBIRT is a public health response to unhealthy substance use and related harms” and you say, “What the heck is spirt?” we know we need to take a step out of our world and into yours.

Our video intro to SBIRT introduces you to members of our staff who actually work on implementing SBIRT.  You’ll learn a bit about the history of SBIRT.  You’ll get a sense of who can benefit from the use of SBIRT.  And you’ll get a lot of exposure to its pronunciation.


HOLLY: SBIRT stands for screening, brief intervention and referral to treatment, and it’s a public health model.

JESS: Someone should be able to screen you, talk to you about what are your levels of substance use and whether or not those are risky and then provide a brief intervention which could enhance your motivation and then provide a referral to treatment which can be so simple as giving you information. It doesn’t have to be going to rehab or formal treatment.

DAWN: SBIRT (so screening, brief intervention, and referral to treatment) is a public health model, and a harm reduction model. The approach of SBIRT is not that you need to stop drinking altogether, but that you might consider drinking and using alcohol within sort of what has been determined to be the safe limits, or the not so risky limits for alcohol use.

JESS: But I think that’s a model that takes a public health approach to substance use, which is that lots of people use substances. How can we talk about it better, and how can we get people help if they need it?

JIM: It’s another screen. In healthcare settings they do all kinds of screening, you know, you come in, they put you on the scale, that’s a screen, they take your blood pressure, that’s a screen, so the idea that we can do or ask people some questions about their alcohol and drug use fits into that model.

HOLLY: It’s actually been around since the early 80s. The World Health Organization and other national organizations were looking at reducing risky use around alcohol. And there were a couple small scale studies if doctors continuously talked to their patients, just brief conversations about reducing alcohol use, that people were able to make those health decisions and use in a less risky way. They began looking at specific screens to validate them around alcohol use. That initiative grew really primarily because of the endorsement of the world health organization. Then in the United States SBIRT was championed by SAMHSA, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. They began to fund, probably in 2003, large-scale SBIRT projects. From then it’s grown. So it’s over a decade long, at least in the US, and even longer if you go back.

JIM: Recently, in fact, last week I did a training with school personnel, both people who work with schools as counselors, people who are involved with student-assistance program teams, and school nurses were also part of the trainings, so school people are interested in SBIRT. I’ve also worked with people who are pastors, pastoral counseling. SBIRT is a good tool if you are doing counseling with your parishioners. It is probably a good idea to ask about substance use and see if that may be playing a role in what problems they may be experiencing.  Also, mental health counselors are also a group that I’ve talked to in the past.

DAWN: The nice thing about SBIRT is that anybody can do SBIRT. Anybody can be – you don’t have to be a health professional. You don’t have to be a mental health professional to understand the concepts and to apply them with any population.

JIM: So it’s a pretty wide variety of folks who can find SBIRT a useful tool.