Most Binge Drinkers Never Consult with Doctors About Drinking

Posted on September 27th, 2014
Posted in Substance Abuse

Binge drinking can lead to long-term health issues like heart disease, liver disease and certain cancers. Despite this many people continue to indulge. A recent study examined the frequency with which patients talked with their doctors about drinking.

The study was based on previous research that supported the use of screenings and interventions conducted during a routine physical examination. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism says that physicians should screen patients for binge drinking and include brief interventions if they believe that the patient is at risk.

The researchers defined binge drinkers as anyone that had consumed four or more drinks for women or five or more drinks for men on one occasion in the past 30 days. Heavy binge drinkers were those that had at least ten episodes of binge drinking in the past 30 days.

Using a nationwide survey the researchers measured how often health professionals screen patients for binge drinking behavior patterns. The team collected data from a wave of the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, which is conducted through telephone surveys each year.

The survey included 166,753 adults over the age of 18. The researchers asked the respondents about binge drinking risk factors, as well as whether a doctor or other health professional had ever talked with them about their alcohol-related behaviors.

Among the respondents only 16 percent said that a health professional had ever talked with them about alcohol consumption. At 25 percent, binge drinkers were more likely to have talked with a health professional, but only one-third of heavy binge drinkers had ever talked with a doctor about alcohol-related behaviors.

The authors say that there are several limitations to their findings. The study’s results were based on the gathering of data using self-report. Self-report is always subject to inaccuracy, particularly when relying on information about events in the past.

In addition, the survey was conducted through telephone landlines, which are increasingly being ignored or eliminated because of a preference for cell phone use. The data also did not include participation by individuals living in psychiatric hospitals or military bases, which may have created an imbalance in the findings.

Another significant limitation of the findings is the absence of a potentially important question on the survey. The researchers did not ask the respondents if they had a health care provider at the time of the survey, in the past year or ever. This may be problematic because a person who did not have a doctor may be less likely to talk with a healthcare professional about alcohol consumption.

The findings demonstrate that very few individuals receive screenings about binge drinking when visiting their primary care physician. Binge drinking is a leading cause of preventable death in the United States, so it’s important that doctors include alcohol screenings in their routine physical exams.

The article suggests that doctors may be reluctant to screen patients because they are not equipped to deal with binge drinking or its underlying issues. It’s critical that physicians maintain contact with other types of healthcare professionals that specialize in treating addiction and other alcohol-related problems.

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