Health Care Providers Often Fail to Talk to Patients about Alcohol Consumption

Only one in six adults and only one in four people who reported binge drinking say a health professional has ever discussed alcohol use with them, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to the new CDC report, at least 38 million adults in the United States drink too much; consuming higher than safe levels of alcohol is linked to about 88,000 deaths in the United States each year, and cost the U.S. over $220 billion in health care costs and lost productivity last year.

The CDC recommendations for drinking levels for people who are not dealing with alcoholism is two drinks per day for men, one for women and no drinks for pregnant women or people below the age of 21. Drinking above the recommended limits has been linked to health and social problems, including heart disease, breast cancer, sexually transmitted diseases, fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, motor-vehicle crashes and violence.

The CDC used the 2011 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey, conducted among thousands of people in 44 states and the District of Columbia, to review responses by adults who were asked in the survey if they had ever been “talked with by a health provider” about alcohol use. No state or district had more than one in four adults report that a health professional talked with them about their drinking. On average 15.8 percent of adults in the states surveyed and Washington, D.C. reported talking about alcohol with a health care provider with the lowest rates in Kansas (8.7 percent) and the highest in Washington, D.C. (25.5 percent.) California hovered near the national average at 15.4 percent.

Brief screenings, which some health-care providers offer using computers or computer tablets, and brief counseling, can reduce by 25 percent per occasion the amount of alcohol that a person who has been drinking too much will consume, according to CDC research. And, under the Affordable Care Act, alcohol screening and counseling is often covered without patient copay.

“Drinking too much alcohol has many more health risks than most people realize,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “Alcohol screening and brief counseling can help people set realistic goals for themselves and achieve those goals. Health-care workers can provide this service to more patients and involve communities to help people avoid dangerous levels of drinking.”

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has created materials to help health care professionals conduct fast, evidence-based alcohol screening and brief interventions for adults 18 and older.


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