BackgroundBrief treatment (BT) can be an effective, short-term, and low-cost treatment option for many people who misuse alcohol and drugs. However, inconsistent implementation is suggested to result in BT that often looks and potentially costs similar to regular outpatient care. Prior research is also rife with inconsistent operationalizations regarding the measurement of BT received by patients. As such, there is a need to more explicitly identify and document variations in BT practice.MethodsA qualitative investigation of BT in four Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC) was undertaken as a sub study of a larger clinical trial. Researchers interviewed 12 staff (administrators and clinicians) involved in BT oversight, referral, or delivery within the four FQHCs. Data were analyzed following an inductive approach guided by the primary research questions.ResultsFindings demonstrate considerable differences in how BT was conceptualized and implemented within the FQHCs. This included a variety of ways in which BT was presented and described to patients that likely impacts how they perceive the BT they receive, including potentially not understanding they received substance use disorder treatment at all.ConclusionsThe findings raise questions regarding the validity of prior research, demonstrating more objective definitions of BT and fidelity checklists are needed to ensure integrity of results. Future work in this area should seek to understand BT as practiced among a larger sample of providers and the direct experiences and perspectives of patients. There is also a need for more consistent implementation, quality assurance guidelines, and standardized stage of change assessments to aid practitioners.