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CDC: Health pros don't screen for alcohol problems, even in risky patients

Despite CDC recommendations most patients aren't screened for drinking issues
Stockimages, Free Digital Photos

Only one in six adults – and only one in four binge drinkers – say a health professional has ever discussed alcohol use with them according to a Jan. 7 Vital Signs 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 abuse or the disease of alcoholism.

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. Alcohol use can lead to many health and social problems, including heart disease, breast cancer, sexually transmitted diseases, fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, traffic crashes and violence and ranks as the third-leading cause of illness worldwide. (See related article)

“Drinking too much alcohol has many more health risks than most people realize,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D. “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.” But it's just not done often according to the study.

The CDC says if the screening is recommended for all adults and it can reduce the amount of alcohol consumed on an occasion by 25 percent among those who drink too much. As with other prevention measures like blood pressure, cholesterol and breast cancer screening and flu vaccination, it has also been shown to improve health and save money.

The CDC report echoes concerns raised in a similar report a year ago in the Annals of Family Medicine. That study concluded that doctor’s intuition misses most patients with alcohol abuse or the disease of alcoholism in all but a quarter of the cases. (See “Journal: Doctors not catching alcohol-use disorders”)

Through the Affordable Care Act (or Obamacare), alcohol screening and brief counseling can be covered by most health insurance plans without co-pay and addiction-related treatment is covered to the same level as other medical/surgical procedures.

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