A recent study by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) has found that general practitioners in the United States are failing on a wide scale to screen for problem drinking in young adults. Young people age 18 to 25 are the most likely to engage in binge drinking and their physicians are a non-judgmental source of health information on this topic. Doctors are a unique resource who, unlike family or friends, can deliver the message about responsible drinking from a position of authority without the emotional ties that can sometimes cause tension. So, are our doctors educating patients about excessive alcohol consumption?
Many Doctors Missing the Opportunity to Prevent Problem Drinking
According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 86.4 percent of people ages 18 or older reported that they drank alcohol at some point in their lifetime; 70.1 percent reported that they drank in the past year; 56.0 percent reported that they drank in the past month. The questionnaire inquired about the subject’s alcohol drinking patterns and about discussions with their doctor within the last 12 months. In particular the questions probed to understand exactly if their doctors broached the subject of alcohol consumption and whether information on responsible drinking habits had been discussed during their visit.
According to the survey results, doctors are allowing an extraordinary opportunity to help their patients both mentally and physically just fall by the wayside. Of the patients who reported excessive drinking patterns, only 14 percent were advised by their doctors about what constitutes problem drinking and instructed about potential health effects. Although higher than average across all ages, only roughly one-third of the 18-to-25 group who drank excessively were provided any alcohol education by their doctor. Experts say this high-risk group should be receiving guidance across the board, but especially when they admit to unhealthy levels of alcohol intake.
Can a Doctor’s Brief Intervention Really Impact Alcohol Consumption?
Some might think, “So what?” It’s pretty well-known that drinking too much isn’t good for your health; what is a doctor going to say in such a short time that will make a difference? Well, a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine demonstrated that just a 10-minute chat with a physician helps nearly 20 percent of patients reduce their alcohol intake for six months to two years. Research shows that a doctor systematically engaging in screening and counseling for problem drinkers is in the top five most economically worthwhile preventative services they can provide. From these findings, many experts believe alcohol screening and counseling should be placed in the same class of prevention as mammograms, pap smears, and colon and prostate cancer screenings.
Why do you think doctors are neglecting to discuss problem drinking? Do you think they are overloaded with patients and don’t have time, are tired of giving out the same info, think everyone already knows or some other reason doctors are NOT educating patients about excessive alcohol consumption and potential abuse.