BACKGROUND: There is growing interest in pro-active detection and provision of interventions for heavy alcohol use in the general hospital inpatient population. We aimed to determine, from the available evidence, the effectiveness of interventions in reducing alcohol consumption among general hospital inpatient heavy alcohol users. METHODS: The following databases were searched for completed and on-going randomised and non-randomised controlled studies published up to November 2012: MEDLINE; C2-SPECTR; CINAHL; The Cochrane Library; Conference Proceedings Citation Index: Science; EMBASE; HMIC; PsycInfo; Public Health Interventions Cost Effectiveness Database (PHICED); and ClinicalTrials.gov. Studies were screened independently by two reviewers. Data extraction was performed by one reviewer and independently checked by a second. RESULTS: Twenty-two studies which met the inclusion criteria enrolled 5307 participants in total. All interventions were non-pharmacological and alcohol focused. Results from single session brief interventions and self-help literature showed no clear benefit on alcohol consumption outcomes, with indications of benefit from some studies but not others. However, results suggest brief interventions of more than one session could be beneficial on reducing alcohol consumption, especially for non-dependent patients. No active intervention was found superior over another on alcohol consumption and other outcomes. CONCLUSIONS: Brief interventions of more than one session could be beneficial on reducing alcohol consumption among hospital inpatients, especially for non-dependent patients. However, additional evidence is still needed before more definitive conclusions can be reached.