CDC: All patients should be screened for drinking

A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has flagged a need for better alcohol screening and brief intervention.

According to the CDC, upwards of 38 million adults in the United States drink too much, which is defined as binge drinking, high weekly use and any alcohol use by pregnant women or those younger than 21. Yet only one in six adults reported ever having conversations about drinking habits with a health care professional.

The findings are based on a 2011 survey of more than 160,000 adults, greater than age 18, from around the nation.

Health care providers should both be asking patients about their drinking–the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has recommended doing so since 2004–and offering them brief counseling when appropriate, says the CDC. The combination of screening and intervention can reduce alcohol consumption on an occasion by as much as 25 percent among those who drink too much. The report also notes that screening and counseling efforts should look beyond alcoholism and include those who would be classified as “problem drinkers.”

During a telephone press conference CDC Director Thomas Frieden said:

“Drinking alcohol has a lot more risks than many people realize. … In the same way we screen patients for high cholesterol and high blood pressure, we should be screening for excess alcohol use and responding effectively. … The health system is not doing a good job of finding out about these problems.”

Learn more about HERA and STaRS, two Polaris solutions that support Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment in health care settings.