Few doctors discuss alcohol use with patients

Jan. 8, 2014 at 12:48 AM  |  Updated Jan. 8, 2014 at 9:21 AM   |   Comments

ATLANTA, Jan. 8 (UPI) -- Drinking too much alcohol hurts health in several ways, but many U.S. physicians are loathe to bring up drinking during a doctor's visit, researchers say.

A Vital Signs report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta said even among U.S. adults who binge drink 10 or more times a month, only 1-in-3 have ever had a health professional talk with them about alcohol. Binge drinking is defined as consuming four or more drinks for women and five or more drinks for men within 2 to 3 hours.

At least 38 million U.S. adults drink too much, but most are not alcoholics. Drinking too much causes about 88,000 deaths in the United States each year, and was responsible for about $224 billion in economic costs in 2006, the report said.

Alcohol can also lead to many health problems including heart disease, breast cancer, sexually transmitted diseases, fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, motor-vehicle crashes and violence.

"Drinking too much alcohol has many more health risks than most people realize," Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the CDC, said in a statement. "Alcohol screening and brief counseling can help people set realistic goals for themselves and achieve those goals. Healthcare workers can provide this service to more patients and involve communities to help people avoid dangerous levels of drinking."

Talking with a patient about alcohol use is an important first step in screening and counseling, Frieden said.

Alcohol screening and brief counseling can reduce the amount of alcohol consumed on an occasion by 25 percent among those who drink too much, the report said.

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