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Should Physicians Screen Every Patient for Alcohol Misuse?


Risky drinking can cause problems for individuals in both their personal and professional lives, as well as potentially lead to the development of alcohol dependence or alcoholism. This kind of drinking is also responsible certain preventable illnesses and deaths. In a recently concluded analysis of studies concerning risky drinking and intervention methods, the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force determined that primary care physicians should screen their adult patients for alcohol misuse, as well as provide brief counseling services as an intervention tool (Reuters).

This review of studies from 1985 to 2011 provided experts with enough evidence to conclude that interventions by primary care physicians in the cases of alcohol misuse can provide an easy and effective way to curb heavy drinking (Brauser). Alcohol misuse is a wide range of drinking problems; from risky drinking – which includes drinking more than what is recommended as a safe amount – to alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence. The way that this panel defined alcohol abuse was that drinking causes problems in the individual’s personal and work lives, while dependence was defined as a physical dependence on alcohol. Alcohol misuse is a common problem, according to experts: 21% of American adults admit to risky drinking, while it is estimated that 4% of American adults are dependent on alcohol (Norton). Additionally, problem drinking is responsible for about 85,000 preventable deaths annually in the United States, making it one of the leading causes of preventable deaths (Norton).

The panel proposed that primary care physicians should screen all of their adult patients for alcohol misuse. The tools that are recommended for screening are the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test, the Audit-Consumption, and simple questions such as how many times during the past year the individual had drank more than recommended by organizations such as the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (Brauser). All together, these three screening tools would take 15 minutes at most to administer. If an individual shows signs of alcohol misuse, it is suggested that primary care physicians refer them to a brief counseling service, which consists of multiple interactions lasting 10 to 15 minutes each, as this type of counseling intervention was deemed to be the most effective method for risky drinkers (Brauser). However, people with alcohol dependence or serious alcohol abuse would most likely need to be referred to a specialty treatment for people with alcoholic tendencies.

This analysis provides primary care physicians with an opportunity to greatly improve public health and offer preventative and intervention services. As these counseling tools are viewed to be effective, they can most likely help people before they could reach a point of alcohol abuse or dependence. However, there is one set of limitations to this panel’s suggestions: there isn’t enough research to support these types of tools in adolescents. The panel isn’t discounting the credibility of primary care physicians asking adolescents how much they drink, but it is saying there is a need for further research into the effectiveness of intervention and screening tools in adolescent drinking.

If primary care physicians could screen all their adult patients for alcohol misuse, they most likely could help many people get themselves in check, and help others find specialty treatment for the degree of alcohol abuse or dependence they experience. Alcohol misuse is a serious problem for adults in this country, and the fact that quick screening methods could offer insight and intervention is something that should be recognized by all primary care physicians around the nation.



Sources Cited:

Brauser, Deborah. “New Guidelines for Alcohol Misuse in Adults Released.” 15 May 2013. Medscape. Web. 29 July 2013.

Norton, Amy. “New Guidelines Say Doctors Should Screen All Adults for ‘Risky’ Drinking.” 13 May 2013. HealthDay. Web. 29 July 2013.

Reuters. “Doctors should ask patients about alcohol misuse, panel says.” 14 May 2013. Fox News. Web. 29 July 2013.

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A native New Yorker, Bre loves the California scene and writing for Treatment4Addiction. She has been writing content for T4A for five months, and loves to learn new things, form opinions, and send them out to the world. Her interests include dance, singing, acting, talking with friends, being a daughter, and being the best big sister she can to her 16 year old brother. After attending ASU for a few months, she is interested in taking cosmetology classes and exploring her options. She looks forward to learning all she can, and doing something positive with that knowledge and experience.

Filed under: Addiction, Alcohol and Drugs, Latest News, Recovery, Research, Treatment · Tags: alcohol dependence, alcohol misuse, alcoholism, binge drinking, counseling, doctors, Intervention, patients, preventative medicine, prevention, primary care physicians, screening is operated by Recovery Brands LLC, a subsidiary of American Addiction Centers, Inc.
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