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Research Summary

Most Adults with Heavy Episodic Drinking in the U.S. Have Never Talked with a Health Professional About Their Alcohol Use

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and other health organizations recommend screening and brief intervention for unhealthy alcohol use, but it is not known how often patients speak with their health professionals about their consumption. Researchers examined data from 166,753 participants in the 2011 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) nationally representative survey of U.S. adults. Specifically, they analyzed responses to the question: “Has a doctor or other health professional ever talked with you about alcohol use?”

  • 52% of respondents reported current alcohol use and 13% reported heavy episodic drinking.*
  • Among all respondents, only about 16% (17% for people with current alcohol use; 14% for abstainers) reported ever discussing alcohol use with a health professional.
  • Among people with current heavy episodic drinking, only 25% reported ever discussing alcohol use with a health professional (ranging from 24% for those with 1–2 episodes of heavy episodic drinking in the past month to 35% for those with ≥10 episodes in the past month).

* Defined as ≥4 standard drinks (women) or ≥5 drinks (men) on ≥1 occasions in the last 30 days.

Comments:

This report suggests that a large majority of U.S. adults—even those with heavy episodic drinking—have never spoken with a health professional about their alcohol use. Although the study was limited by reliance on self-report, uncertainty about whether respondents underwent alcohol screening, and a 50% response rate, it suggests a large implementation gap. Kevin L. Kraemer, MD, MSc

 

Reference:

McKnight-Eily LR, Liu Y, Brewer RD, et al. Vital Signs: Communication Between Health Professionals and Their Patients About Alcohol Use – 44 States and the District of Columbia, 2011. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2014;63(1):16–22.

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