Should you discuss your drinking habits with your doctor?

February 5, 2014

For many drinkers, the line between alcohol use and abuse can become quickly blurred. To help combat this, many experts believe doctors should be counseling their patients during routine physicals about the dangers of alcohol abuse and assessing how much they drink on a regular basis. According to a new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, however, doctors haven’t been doing their part in questioning patients about their drinking patterns.

According to a new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, however, doctors haven’t been doing their part in questioning patients about their drinking habits.

Reuters reported on the study, which found that doctors do not seem to be bringing up alcohol with their patients, despite the fact that an estimated 38 million Americans drink too much on a regular basis and 88,000 people die each year from excessive alcohol consumption.

“[Asking about alcohol consumption] should be a part of routine patient care,” CDC director Thomas Frieden said. “In the same way we screen patients for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, we should be screening for excess alcohol use.”

To come to their conclusions, the researchers conducted 166,000 interviews in 2011 in 44 states and the District of Columbia. They found that in some parts of the country, the number of patients who had discussed alcohol with their doctors was remarkably low. For example, in Kansas only 8.7 percent of patients have talked about drinking to their doctors. Even in the parts of the U.S. where the most individuals were talking with their doctors about their drinking habits, the number was still low at 25.5 percent.

CDC researchers say that many doctors are simply too busy to discuss alcohol with their patients. However, Frieden insisted that spending just a little bit of time talking about this issue could go a long way in helping individuals who may be problem drinkers.

“Counseling for five, 10, 15 minutes can result in a substantial reduction in problem drinking,” he told Reuters.

Tips for talking about alcohol with doctor

People who have been struggling with alcohol abuse should talk to their doctors about whether treatment is right for them. The University of Maryland Medical Center say there are a few specific questions that doctors are likely to ask people with drinking concerns. For example: Have you ever thought that you needed to cut back on the amount of alcohol you drink? Has a spouse, friend or coworker ever annoyed you by asking you to drink less? People who answer “yes” to these questions may want to consider reaching out for help.

Alcoholism can strike at any age. Some older individuals may be too embarrassed to talk to their doctor about a drinking problem, or they may think that they do not need to be concerned about drinking because of their age. The National Institute on Aging note that depression is common in older adults and drinking problems often accompany this mental health issue.

The NIA has a recommendation for how older individuals can bring up the subject of drinking with their doctors. The organization recommended saying, “Lately I’ve been wanting to have a drink earlier and earlier in the afternoon and I find it’s getting harder to stop after just one or two. What kind of treatments could help with this?”

This is a simple, uncomplicated way to bring up a real problem that could cause people to experience liver damage, brain damage and other severe issues down the road.

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