Reminder to Chicago physicians: Screen patients for alcohol misuse

Medical negligence in Chicago and throughout the entire country may be contributing to alcohol-related illnesses, which is consequently the third-leading cause of preventable death in the U.S.

A panel of medical experts recently suggested that some alcohol-related illnesses, such as hypertension, liver disease and breast and esophageal cancers, may be reduced in the U.S. by simple medical counseling about safe alcohol consumption. Failing to question patients about alcohol use could even possibly lead to a missed diagnosis of an addiction problem or mental illness.

According to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, a panel consisting of medical experts, doctors are only asking about 45 percent of their adult patients about their alcohol consumption habits. The panel determined that brief counseling by primary care physicians and nurses during a patient’s visit could help to reduce the patient’s alcohol consumption, thus lowering his or her risk of developing an alcohol-related illness.

This finding is based on the panel’s review of research showing such counseling reduces incidents of binge drinking. The studies further showed a higher rate of success when alcohol counseling occurred over a number of patient visits as opposed to just one patient visit.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, more than 14 drinks per week constitutes excessive drinking for men while more than seven is excessive for women. Patients who received counseling by medical professionals showed a reduction in average weekly alcohol consumption from 23 drinks per week to 19. In contrast, patients who received no counseling showed no change.

While screening for alcohol misuse and alcohol counseling is recommended for adults, the panel refrains from suggesting the same for adolescents. It is thought that screening and counseling adolescents in regard to alcohol consumption may cause them stigma-related anxiety.

Although patients are certainly responsible for making their own choices about how much they choose to drink, they may benefit from hearing from their doctors about how alcohol misuse could be harmful to their health.

Source: The New York Times, “Panel reminds doctors to screen for alcohol misuse,” Sabrina Tavernise, Sept. 24, 2012