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Study: Most U.S. Docs Don’t Discuss Alcohol With Patients

About 38 million U.S. adults drink too much (January 7)

Only one in six adults — and only one in four binge drinkers — say a health professional has ever discussed alcohol use with them even though drinking too much is harmful to health, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Even among adults who binge drink 10 or more times a month, only one in three have ever had a health professional talk with them about alcohol use. Binge drinking is defined as consuming four or more drinks for women and five or more drinks for men within 2 to 3 hours. Talking with a patient about their alcohol use is an important first step in screening and counseling, which has been proven effective in helping people who drink too much to drink less, the report says.

The CDC estimates that at least 38 million adults in the U.S. drink too much. Most are not alcoholics. Drinking too much causes about 88,000 deaths in the U.S. each year, and was responsible for about $224 billion in economic costs in 2006. It can also lead to many health and social problems, including heart disease, breast cancer, sexually transmitted diseases, fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, motor-vehicle crashes, and violence.

According to the report, alcohol screening and brief counseling can reduce the amount of alcohol consumed on an occasion by 25% among those who drink too much. Screening and counseling are recommended for all adults, including pregnant women. Through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, alcohol screening and brief counseling can be covered by most health insurance plans without copay.

No state or district had more than one in four adults report that a health professional talked with them about their drinking, and only 17% of pregnant women reported such interaction. Drinking during pregnancy can seriously harm a developing fetus.

Source: CDC; January 7, 2013.

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