Alcohol Counseling Reflects Higher Quality of Primary Care

Despite practice guidelines that recommend clinicians offer brief interventions to patients for unhealthy alcohol use, many primary care physicians still shy away from addressing the issue for various reasons, including the assumption that people are not interested in discussing their drinking habits. In this study, 288 patients were screened for unhealthy alcohol use. They were surveyed before a physician visit to assess readiness to change and after a visit to ascertain whether they had received alcohol counseling, and how they perceived their quality of care.

Key Findings:

  • Almost half the participants reported receiving alcohol counseling during their primary care visit.
  • Counseled subjects were more likely than noncounseled subjects to be older, have no high school education, have a more serious drinking problem and a greater readiness for change.
  • Counseled subjects reported higher quality of primary care in the areas of communication, whole-person knowledge and trust.
  • At a six-month follow-up, more than half the participants were still drinking risky amounts, perhaps because interventions that may have successfully altered their alcohol use were not offered in this study.

The study found that the quality of primary care does not necessarily affect drinking habits of patients, but providing them with counseling for excessive and unhealthy alcohol use may improve the quality of primary care provided.