CDC Vital Signs: Medical Professionals Need To Screen And Counsel Patients About Alcohol Use

Does your medical professional routinely screen you for alcohol use?

Think about this question before you rush to answer it. If you’ve been a patient of the same primary care medical team for a number of years, then there is a good chance that the last time you were asked about your use of alcohol was the first time you completed the practice’s patient information form which could have included questions about your health history.  In that form you may have seen a section like this:

If you answered something other than you “do not drink,” did your medical professional ask you additional questions about your daily alcohol consumption? Did he or she offer you any kind of counseling?

CDC’s January 2014 Vital Signs issues a call to action for medical professionals: have a conversation

This past Tuesday the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued its monthly Vital Signs report: Alcohol Screening and Counseling ~ An effective but underused health service. The CDC wants doctors, nurses and other health professionals to screen all adult patients and counsel those who drink too much. However, the CDC found that:

  • Only 1 in 6 adults have discussed their drinking. 
  • Few binge drinkers (1 in 4) have talked about alcohol use. Binge drinking is defined as men drinking 5 or more alcoholic drinks or women drinking 4 or more, in about 2-3 hours. 
  • Even among adults who binge drink 10 times or more a month, only 1 in 3 have discussed drinking.
  • Only 17% of pregnant women have talked about drinking. 
  • Most states had less than 1 in 4 adults who discussed their drinking. Washington, D.C. had the highest percentage with 25%.

CDC Director Tom Frieden is encouraging medical professionals to have a conversation with their patients. He also reminds us that most problem drinkers are not alcoholics. According to TIME Magazine:

Frieden suggests health providers talk to patients about the dangers, with counseling aimed at reducing a person’s alcohol intake and eradicating irresponsible drinking behaviors by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, with patients to encourage healthier lifestyles. He describes the discussions as “motivational interviewing” during which doctors help patients define their drinking habits, explore problems caused by consumption, and set realistic goals to reduce intake.

Dr. Nancy Snyderman reports for NBC Nightly News

If you are having trouble viewing the video, you can see it here.

Some final thoughts…

Many of our posts encourage our readers to start a conversation when it comes to the disease of addiction and mental health issues. There are numerous foundations, organizations and on-line community groups that promote the efficacy of starting the conversation. Now the CDC is trying to jump start the conversation because as Dr. Tom Frieden told NBC News: “A small conversation can make a big difference and help people reduce their alcohol use, but those conversations aren’t happening.”

Also, patients need to remember that a conversation is between two or more persons…it cannot be a one-way street. If your medical professional takes the time to inquire about your daily alcohol use, then be responsive. It is a good first step.

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