Short Chat With Doc Can Curb Problem Drinking

WEDNESDAY Jan. 9, 2008 -- Ten minutes of discussion with a doctor about drinking may help at least one in six problem drinkers change their ways, but most physicians don't understand that, a new data review finds.

The systematic review of 10 related studies is published in the February issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

According to the researchers, brief alcohol screening and counseling may rank among the top five most cost-effective preventive services a doctor can offer, along with Pap smears and bowel cancer screening.

Screening for problem drinking, combined with a doctor's advice, reduced problem drinking by 17.4 percent over a period that varied from six months to two years, according to the particular study.

The research team defined problem drinking as consuming more than seven drinks per week for women or more than 14 for men -- or drinking more than three drinks on one occasion for women or four drinks on one occasion for men. Approximately one in four people between the ages of 18 and 54 are problem drinkers, said the researchers.

Problem drinking can include binge drinking or drinking and driving; serious alcohol-related choices but not severe enough to be considered alcoholism.

"Reviewing this data and stepping back, it really struck me how truly important this finding is," lead author Dr. Leif Solberg, associate medical director for care improvement research at Health Partners in Minneapolis, said in a prepared statement. "It's a service most physicians don't offer . . . I think most of my fellow physicians would think that their impact on alcohol use is close to zero."

According to the researchers, physicians may believe a short talk with a doctor will not help alcoholics quit or that people who are not alcoholics don't need advice on controlling drinking.

"The effectiveness does not depend on stopping drinking, it's reducing the quantity or the number of times there is binge drinking," study co-author, Michael Maciosek, research investigator at Health Partners, said in a prepared statement.

The researchers found that screening and counseling cost about $10 per patient but saved money in terms of reduced need to treat injuries or other alcohol-related health problems.

More information

To learn more about alcohol abuse, visit the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Posted: January 2008


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