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Think You Might Be Drinking Just a Little Too Much?
CDC Urges Physicians to Ask About Alcohol
Doctors should do more to help their patients who drink heavily, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say.
Despite the fact that excessive alcohol use is blamed for an estimated 88,000 deaths and 2.5 million years of potential life lost each year in the United States, only one of six adults, including binge drinkers, reported ever discussing alcohol consumption with a health professional, according to a study released Jan. 7 by the CDC.
“Drinking too much alcohol has many more health risks than most people realize,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, CDC director, in a statement. “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.”
Even among adults who binge drink 10 times or more a month, only 1 in 3 has discussed their drinking with a health professional. The percentage of patients who had ever discussed their drinking with a health care provider ranged from a low of 8.7 percent in Kansas to 25.5 percent in Washington, D.C.
Doctors are often too busy to screen patients for alcohol abuse and may view treatment options as ineffective, the CDC said.
However, alcohol screening and brief counseling has been proven to reduce how much alcohol a person drinks on an occasion by 25%. These screenings can be as simple as a doctor, nurse or other caregiver spending a few minutes with a patient to ask about his or her alcohol consumption, discuss what the patient wants to do in the future and recommend guidelines.
The federal Affordable Care Act requires new insurance plans to cover alcohol screening with no patient co-pay, Frieden said.
Alcohol screening “should be a part of routine patient care,” Frieden said. “In the same way we screen for high blood pressure and high cholesterol, we should be screening for excess alcohol use and treating patients appropriately.”
“For every one person who is [an] alcoholic, there are six who are problem drinkers,” Frieden said
High Cost of Alcohol Abuse
Excessive alcohol consumption is to blame for multiple adverse health consequences, including liver cirrhosis, various cancers, unintentional injuries and violence.
A recent University of Illinois at Chicago study took a close look at how binge drinking impacts the health of college co-eds. That study took students who were healthy, non-smokers and divided them into two groups: binge drinkers and non-drinkers. Binge drinking was defined as five or more drinks within two hours for men and four or more drinks in two hours for women.
The researchers found that young adults who engaged in binge drinking showed vascular impairments that looked like a person who drinks heavily every day. The tissue changes can trigger heart attack, stroke and/or hardening of the arteries.
If you do choose to drink, do so in moderation, the CDC says. This is defined as up to one drink a day for women or two for men.
The full report is available online on the CDC’s website.