VitalSigns: Health Professionals Fall Short on Alcohol Consumption and Binge Drinking Counseling
Jan 7, 2014, 11:54 AM
The January 2014 VitalSigns report, a monthly report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on leading health indicators, looks at the failure of too many health care professionals to counsel patients on the risks of consuming too much alcohol and binge drinking. According to a recent survey cited in the new report, only one in six adults reports counseling by a health care professional during routine visits, and that number drops to one in four for binge drinkers, despite the fact that studies show that counseling could save lives and reduce health care costs.
Research by the CDC finds that having physicians ask patients about alcohol consumption and brief counseling could reduce the amount of alcohol consumed on an occasion by 25 percent. At least 38 million adults drink too much and most are not alcoholics, according to the CDC. Drinking too much includes binge drinking, high weekly use, and any alcohol use by pregnant women or those under age 21. And it causes about 88,000 deaths in the United States each year, costing the economy about $224 billion.
Significantly, alcohol screening and brief alcohol counseling are now covered by many health insurance plans without a copay as a result of the Affordable Care Act.
A review of studies by CDC researchers found that brief (6-15 minutes) intervention sessions were effective in significantly reducing weekly alcohol consumption. A patient survey conducted following brief counseling sessions found that patients reported:
- 3.6 fewer drinks per week for adults
- Binge level drinking was reported by 12 percent fewer participants
- Increased adherence to recommended drinking limits was achieved by 11 percent more participants.
“Drinking too much alcohol has many more health risks than most people realize,” says CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH. “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.”
In a briefing for reporters today, Frieden said that for every one alcoholic in the United States there are about six people who drink too much, and many don’t realize that their drinking is excessive.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults who drink only do so in moderation, which is defined as up to one drink a day for women and two for men.
The National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse recommends that health professionals discuss alcohol use with all patients and has a screening tool to help determine how much patients drink, assess problems associated with drinking and refer patients for specialized treatment if needed.
- Read a recent NewPublicHealth interview with Lori Butterfield, who produced the recent documentary, Lipstick and Liquor, about hidden drinking by too many women.
- The Guide to Community Preventive Services provides evidence-based strategies for helping to reduce alcohol consumption among individuals and in communities.
This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.