Effectiveness of Alcohol Screening by Primary Care Physicians Studied
> 1/14/2008 2:42:40 PM

Doctors have grown comfortable talking with their patients about the dangers of smoking, but they are usually much more reticent to discuss alcohol consumption. This is not because doctors are unconvinced that alcohol is a large health threat (many of them have seen direct evidence of the damage that alcohol can inflict) but because they are doubtful that their intervention will be tolerated or effective. A meta-study set to appear in next month’s American Journal of Preventive Medicine should dispel much of this hesitation.

Dr. Leif Solberg reviewed 10 randomized controlled trials of alcohol intervention from primary care physicians. He found that a simple 10 minute screening and advice session was enough to reduce problem drinking by 17.4%. This impressive reduction was reported by patients reevaluated from 6 months to 24 months after the brief screening. These interventions are inexpensive; in fact, Dr. Solberg’s team concluded that they are more cost-effective than many standard screenings, such as for bowel cancer.

Despite the effectiveness and low cost of alcohol screenings, only 8.7% of problem drinkers reported receiving any advice about alcohol from their primary care physicians. That dismal statistic should rise, because for many drinkers their general practitioner is the only one that they visit until their alcohol problems have gotten so out of control that a specialist is required. A word in time from someone that they trust and respect could be the factor that keeps them out of the emergency room or rehab center.

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